Who left the little flag and the fading flowers by the old tombstone? It could have been anyone in this town, where memories are long and roots run deep.
The cemetery is in the center of town, across from the dam and just a hundred yards or so from the river. It’s up on the hill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who chose the land for the cemetery knew the river. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for bones and memories.
An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries, fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.
Every Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wild flowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.
Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.
The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 13 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok … from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies and the shtetls of eastern Europe.
Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.
Newcomers like us have no ancestors in the cemetery, at least none about whom we know. Anything is possible in America. The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in the town or in a nearby villages for three, four, five generations.
“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else … but some can’t remember when or if it’s true.