IN THE MIDDLE OF TOWN

The cemetery is in the center of the town, across from the dam and just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. It’s up on a hill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who created that cemetery knew about the rivers. And flooding. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for the 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 17 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, aren’t rare anymore but far from common. We 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.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if a long time since. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young. Hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.” We nod, because it was a long time ago, longer than we’ve been alive, and we aren’t young.

So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.

20 thoughts on “IN THE MIDDLE OF TOWN

  1. I am a cemetery tourist and have visited many in Europe. I like the cemeteries in smaller places where you get a good idea of the history of the place. It is only the wealthy in Switzerland with the old family graves that can afford to buy the ground, otherwise you are dug up and disposed off after about 40 years according to the local stipulations.

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  2. In our travels around Southern Nevada, we’ve come upon many a small town. And the cemetery is always decorated with flowers or flags or coins on the headstones. I love reading the dates but one still haunts me. A young woman, aged 23, buried in the middle of the desert near an old mining ghost town. The year of her death was 1793, if I remember correctly. No cause of death is mentioned.

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    • You see small stones, sometimes with no names on them which I presume are for children, some of whom died before naming. Then there are the children with dates and a name, but no reason, probably because some disease we now have under control took them away. At least (mostly) we have come a ways since then.

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  3. The smaller the community the stronger the sense of community and of identity and respect for who you are and where you came from – as a general rule! 😉

    Great pics. love the one of Garry on the avenue.

    love.

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