Sunday, May 17, 2009

small-town burial

a gratuitous shot of this morning's buttermilk biscuits
Originally uploaded by norvegal

Speaking of Wayne and his full-fingered mittens, his memorial service was yesterday. Grace wanted to wait until the worst of winter had passed. At 2pm sharp we all gathered at the Lakeview Cemetery, which overlooks—you guessed it—a lake. A big gorgeous freshwater lake called Walker Pond, where my mother attended summer camp as a kid and where I first learned how to capsize a boat.

On this day, the sky was filled with puffy white clouds, and a stiff wind kept the black flies at bay. As Wayne’s great grand-nephew squirmed in his father’s arms and Grace periodically sniffed the sprigs of rosemary she was holding, two ministers (one retiring, the other taking his place) navigated the nuanced waters of Wayne’s agnosticisim with a surprising dose of respect.

A man sang “No Man is an Island,” and several people read Wayne’s poems. One, called “Next,” spoke to the fact that he was the last remaining sibling of 13 and that, indeed, he knew his turn was next. We all said the Lord’s Prayer and departed, driving in a long caravan to the town hall for a reception. Tables had been set up in the same room where we all cast our votes each November.

At the front of the room, a long row of tables had been laden with a feast fitting of Wayne’s memory: trays of meatballs, lasagna, and ziti pasta, hand-sized sandwich rolls filled with crab salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad, potato chips, miniature cupcakes, various tea cakes, and a particularly tasty cottage cheese Jell-O salad with multicolored marshmallows on top. Washed down with sparkling fruit punch and giant cauldrons of weak coffee. The food was a loving and genuine expression of this little community, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As is usually the case, seating followed the unspoken custom. Locals sat together in clumps, and PFAs (my term for “people from away”) sat together in other clumps, and very, very few felt comfortable crossing party lines and injecting themselves upon the other group. These two groups will never become fully amalgamated. (I straddle somewhere in the middle, being from away but related to a much-beloved semi-local character.) The fact that both sides were in attendance was a testament to Wayne who, although married to a local for 50+ years, was born in Ohio and thus never quite fit in here either. Maine is funny that way.

One table was dedicated to mementos. We saw his dashing military portrait (he was a spitting image of Val Kilmer circa Real Genius) and his college diploma. We saw a picture of him gracefully skating on the pond. (“He was 80 there,” Grace told us. “He finally gave up his skates when he turned 85.”) We leafed through a small photo album showing his later years. But most of the table was taken up with huge grainy laminated Polaroids of their yard, taken by their neighbor after he clearcut the beautiful woods immediately behind their house.

The clearcutting was actually a horrible moment for a lot of us, and those pictures seemed a strange thing to display in his memory. And the neighbor didn’t even show up for the funeral or the reception—but he did send those pictures. (I knew they were from him because he has a serious, serious lamination obsession.)

This is the same neighbor who put some odious campaign signs in my front yard and then had his wife come over and yell at me for taking them down. (Apparently putting them in his own yard wasn’t in the strategy, but my yard was? Strange people.)

As cruel a blow as the clearcutting was to Grace and Wayne, they faced it with remarkable dignity. I would’ve busied myself with evil, dark, and barely legal revenge plots, but Wayne—already well into his 90s—went over and helped this neighbor chop and stack the wood properly.

So actually, on second thought, those ugly pictures of barren woods and blurry woodpiles were a fitting tribute to Wayne’s gentle spirit and even temperament. And they were a gentle reminder of that oh-so-useful universal truth: You can’t always control what happens around you, but you can control how you respond to it.


Jane said...

You can’t always control what happens around you, but you can control how you respond to it.

How true, Clara, how true. Thank you for the reminder, and for the wonderful story.

Bess said...

Thanks for introducing me to Wayne.

Madeline said...

Powerful entry and wonderfully written, especially your perfectly descriptive 2nd paragraph. I understand the rift between those born of a place in New England and those from away. I do like the Maine term "people from away." It's to the point, a bit distant, but polite. I live in Vermont now. People from away, even if from the Adirondacks, are flatlanders. To me, it has always sounded derogatory -- and never more so than when appearing in a Letter to the Editor in the local paper.

rosi-r said...

How I love your stories capturing place and time. I want to find my Cathie Pelletier novels. Although her corner of Maine is far north and far less forgiving than you yours, both of you create a yearning in me for the New England I left behind so many years ago.

Clara Parkes said...

Hello Rosi, Madeline, Bess, and Jane! I like knowing that you can relate. Esp. Jane, who was recently awarded an honorary Ph.D. in that particular Universal Truth. :-)