Monday, June 13, 2005

Eternal Rest in a Small Town

My parents still live in the town where I grew up. It is now well on its way to becoming a bedroom community for the Ann-Arbor-Plymouth-Livonia-Detroit metropolitan sprawlidor. Twenty years ago it was just a small town with about 5,000 people most of whom were farmers or blue-collar laborers of one variety or another.

I graduated with a little over 100 students, many of whom married each other and set up home down the street from their parents.

On our way to visit my parents yesterday we drove by the city cemetary. If you get buried in town, this is where you go. So it should not have been surprising to me to recognize so many surnames on the headstones. And yet it was.

As we rolled past them at 40 miles an hour, last names came and went quickly, triggering a high speed slide show of memories and associations: the lunch lady at elementary school, the mother of a nursery-school classmate who was held back a grade in Kindergarden, many parents of friends of my parents, the brother of a high school burnout, a few years older than I, whose son now goes to the same elementary school as mine, our childhood dentist.

From funerals I attended before leaving town, I knew the locations of names I could not see from the road: my mother's best friend(cancer), her son-in law (suicide), a classmate from our junior year of high school (suicide), another classmate from our junior year (car accident).

If I didn't know who was buried at a particular marker, I at least recognized the name and could place it securely in the tangled web of relations that is the fodder of small town gossip and the underpinning for any local's sense of identity and place.

I compare this to the anonymity of the bodies in the Ann Arbor cemetaries I walk through or drive past. I could spend the rest of my life here and still most of the names would remain unfamiliar to me.

I did not know until we drove by the cemetary yesterday that as thankful as I am for my life away from that town, it is comforting to think of my cremains, some of them at least, spread there in it, among all the proper nouns of my first 18 years' life story.


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