If the traditional New England town meeting didn't exist we here in Maine would have to invent it just to add a tad of excitement to our lives at this thrill-challenged time of year. They say when our colonial ancestors first started experimenting with the town meeting concept they tried scheduling their meetings in other months, but after a long period of trial and error, New England towns finally settled on March because — as they rightly observed – March is unquestionably the most useless stretch of days ever to occur on a calendar drawn-up by humans.
Think about it. What else is there for decent hardworking citizens in Maine to do in the dreary month that just ended? True Mainers feel there’s nothing better to do in March but sit around a stuffy town hall for three or four hours and argue with neighbors about the condition of the town's roads and how much should be spent to make them passable? Even those rare towns among us that are inhabited only by enlightened citizens and therefore usually have no known problems can easily conjure up one or two”issues” in March, when the rotten weather has a way of making even the most ideal situations worse than what they really are.
Those who are into conspiracies – and who isn't these days – like to think that town meetings were set in March by ruthless road commissioners. They argue that no one in their right mind would vote against a road budget, however bloated, after riding over a few miles of the town's disintegrating roads. The ride to town meeting in March is argument to spend whatever it'll take to get the roads back in shape.
It's also said that anyone in Maine still in their right mind makes plans to be enjoying the sunny climes of our country's southern regions about the time March arrives in Maine. So just who is voting at these town meetings, anyway?
Some of Maine's trendy towns – with no respect for stodgy New England tradition – have abandoned March meetings altogether and now have their town meetings in unsuitable months like July, or worse yet, August. But, in March, we're much less likely to be busy with pesky out-of-state visitors and more likely to attend. Also, you can’t work in the woods in March because of mud season, and for the same reason you couldn't do much plowing or planting in your fields, either. What better time to get together and get all the town's unpleasant business out of the way before the nice weather arrives?
Back home when I was a kid the town manager who planned our March meetings was Amos Mathews. At selectmen's meetings, when asked a question like: "How many people work for the town these days, Amos?" He would scratch his head and say something like: "I'd say hardly any of them." Amos also had a framed needlepoint hanging on the wall behind his desk. It read: "So little time; so little to do. He was a true town employee.
I heard recently that Amos finally retired and they're planning to name the town hall's new wing after him. Selectmen have hired a new town manager from away named Fred Clark, who says he plans to tear up the pea patch there in town and finally get some things done.
I just hope he doesn't reschedule March meeting. The town needs all the excitement it can get at this time of year.