The Silliman Bench

Bench in Silliman Courtyard1963 – 1970

On a cold evening in January 1969 I arrived back at Yale, sweaty and edgy from dexadrine and the drive from Oklahoma City where I was discharged from the Army. Offices were closed. My best bet was to ring the doorbell at the Silliman Master’s House. Annie Clark opened the door. She and Master Elias Clark had been memorably kind to me during my two and a half years at Yale 1963 to 1966. She remembered me! “I have no idea what room you will have, Dennis, so would you like to stay in the visitors’ guest suite tonight?” She handed me the keys.

In the morning I discovered that the bench had been liberated. No longer chained to a thick vine near Entry I, it was in the sunshine in the middle of the courtyard. I sat on it for the first time in three years, looked around and felt safe, and began to hope it wouldn’t be as bad as I expected.

I didn’t want to come back to Yale, but I had to. It was the only college I could get into.

Until two months earlier I was going to marry a long-term sweetheart, move to New Orleans, and attend LSU-NO. The Army was letting me out two months early to catch the Spring semester. She suddenly broke the engagement. I was devastated enough without the insult of being in New Orleans without her, or worse, staying in the Army until March. I scrambled to get into a college I liked better, but it was too late to get into University of Colorado, or Illinois (my home state), or the Chicago Circle Campus. It was too late everywhere except Yale where it took only one phone call to Dean Palmer. He remembered that I had “withdrawn in good standing” in spite of my academic troubles, and all I needed to come back was evidence of productive occupation while away. He was an old Navy man, and he proudly accepted my service in Viet Nam. “Can you be here by January 20th?” “Yes Sir.”

In 1963 Silliman freshmen lived in Durfee and ate in Commons, but we were allowed limited meals in the college dining room. I went to Silliman a lot and usually spent time on the bench. It was an escape from freshman life and a place to think about a future life, elsewhere. I sat there with the books I wasn’t reading. In cold months when the sun was shining I sat there instead of going to class. Nobody else ever sat on the bench.

It was great in 1969 that so many people stopped and chatted, curious to check out the new guy. I didn’t know they had been warned that I was from Army Intelligence and was probably a narc. I didn’t know I was confirming their suspicions when I kept asking where I could buy some marijuana. Eventually I scored, no one got busted, and I was accepted.

By Spring 1970 the bench was the center of life for friends in the class of 1970, and I loved having so many sit with me. They didn’t know it was my bench.

– Dennis McClure