On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day
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. It has a perfect view of the dam and river, but it’s 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 anniversary of the end of some war we fought, 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 wildflowers 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 19 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok. We come from tiny villages in Ireland, England, the West Indies, and a wide variety of shtetls in eastern and northern Europe. Our people were always on the move.
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 also not 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 nearby villages for three, four, five generations.
“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning they have lived here as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else. Some can’t remember when or if it’s true.
I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if it was a long time ago. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young.
It’s 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. We can’t remember a lot of things from our “old days” either. So many years have passed and so much stuff has happened.
How many wars have we fought — just in our lifetime? I can’t count them anymore. It’s endless. We honor our dead. I think we’d honor them more by ending the cause of their deaths which I doubt it will happen. Peace is not in us, or at least not in most of us. Certainly not in the people who run our countries.
So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.