Years ago, I was sitting on one of the benches by Culler Lake, reminiscing about the times in the late ’60s when people used to skate during the winter months, pausing to rest and sit on the inactive winter fountain steps. Good times.
My reverie was interrupted by a couple who walked up to the bench. They asked, “Do you like this bench?”
Odd question, but I answered, “Yes. It’s one of my favorite places to sit when I have the time.” They both smiled.
“That makes us very happy, because we donated this bench in memory of our son.”
Until that time, I had never really paid much attention to the inscriptions on the memorial plaques centered on the top slat of the benches — benches managed now by the Friends of Baker Park. But the couple’s obvious reverence about their son and their pleasure about my own enjoyment of the bench left them satisfied that perhaps they had done the right thing. They climbed back into their car and left me in a reflective mood.
Now, when I walk through Baker Park — which to me is really the heart of contemporary Frederick — I take the time to scan the inscriptions. There are approximately 100 benches, dedicated to memories, to personalities or even to pets.
The panorama of human emotion is scattered throughout the park, and the donors want you to pause, enjoy and reflect. The mood of a cemetery is sad, eternal and poignant. The mood surrounding dedicated benches in a city’s park is peaceful, contemplative, and …calm. Yes, that’s the word. Sitting on a bench in Baker Park and just wondering about the dedication on the bench is “calming.”
Maya Angelou once said, “Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.”
There is an aura of devotion and respect surrounding these benches. Respect for civic leaders such as mayors, prominent business owners, lawyers and physicians. People who dedicated themselves to making Frederick a more egalitarian town, a town where people from around the country would want to settle their families.
If you need a place to start, look up Jacob Engelbrecht. (He has a bench).
There are benches donated by people who live on the streets adjoining Baker Park. They believe in the future of the park and want to demonstrate their gratitude with the purchase of a place to sit and enjoy the serenity of the seasons. Several people just believe in Frederick and just want to demonstrate their affections for Frederick and for each other.
Civic groups have donated benches, including the Candlelight House Tour, Friends of Baker Park, the Garden Club of Frederick and the Green-Walled Garden Club. These are groups that put their money where their mouth is.
When you stroll and read, you realize how much respect is inside these tributes. You’ll find business owners of places you know and support or personalities you have encountered through the years who were honored by friends and family. If you are new to Frederick, the benches are a good place to start to embrace the history of the city.
Some of the honorees lived a very long time.
Some did not.
There are several benches that remember children or youth who died before they had time to gain traction in life. Their families do not want them to be forgotten. And when you slow down and take the time to read the inscriptions, you are remembering. Remember the husbands who died suddenly, the children who succumbed to cancer, the victims of car accidents, the sons or daughters who lost their way and left families behind who are still trying to pick up the pieces.
Their families want you to pay attention to what it means to be alive. They appreciate it when you take time to pay attention.
There is celebration. Celebration of lives lived well in the service of others. Of artists. Of surgeons truly dedicated to the well-being of people in the community, often at great personal sacrifice.
It’s all in our city’s park.
All the memories, honor, respect, grief and tribute.
So, take a moment. Sit a while.
Look at the treetops.
Edward Thompson writes from Frederick and likes to park himself on a bench.