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 late 1600s. 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. And those who fought in all American wars since.
Every Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember and traditions will be continued. They bring bouquets of wild flowers or flowers from their garden 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 a favorite place. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 21 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok. We came from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies as well as 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.
The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in the town or in nearby villages for three, four, five generations. “We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. 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 very long time.”
We nod, because it was a long time ago. These days, I not only sympathize. I commiserate. I have trouble remembering details of events from childhood, events I was sure I would never forget. Some things stand out better than others, though.
Garry, my Marine, considers this a very special day. Yes, I know. There are no former Marines. A Marine is always a Marine.
So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.