Saturday, September 24, 2016

walking where I (don't) belong

My Wednesday walk takes me past all the old New England families that turned this town from woods and fields to fields and farms. Fletcher, Kimball, Prescott, Ward, they all lie here, in Fairview Cemetery, their monuments erected to keep their names alive.
I like this cemetery. It has great little hills, a manageable challenge that makes me feel as if I am truly working out. And the repetition of names is comforting and quirky. So many families named their daughters Lila in this town. Beside our old labradoodle, I don’t know anyone with that name now, but it was the Ashley or Jessica of its time around here. But then there’s this guy called Ivan that makes you think, “Wait, what? Where did he come from?”
But I also don’t like this cemetery. When I first started writing today, I was going to say that I feel comfortable here, like I belong and lately I don’t feel like I belong in this town at all. But, I don’t belong even here. When I visit my parents in the Lowell Cemetery, there is always someone around walking a dog, taking a jog. I used to bring my own daughters here to collect colorful leaves and hunt for acorns still wearing their hats in fall. We visited in spring to see if they had released the lion from his acid snow protective box yet and to add our own dandelions to his bouquet. Even before my parents were buried there, when it was just my estranged brother’s grave that I would walk the girls past with stories of his mistakes, and long before that when I would wander through just because it was beautiful, I knew I belonged in this cemetery. And so did everyone else. But here, in Fairview, in the town where I live now, which is not a city, which is not Lowell, even here I feel out of place. I hate to see a car pull in and brace myself to be told that it is inappropriate to walk for exercise through a cemetery. I don’t know why I feel like I’ll get this response except that in all the times I have walked through here I have never seen anyone else do the same, not so much as cut through with a dog on a leash. The closest I came was running into a few students one day who had been assigned to locate certain information for a history class. (To confirm the suburban stereotype, I ran into just as many parents as students.)

This is a lovely spot, green and well-treed, that calls out to be walked through. And so on Wednesdays, when I drop my daughter off for her horseback riding lesson across the street (yes I know, more suburban stereotype) I spend a half hour reading off the names as I walk past granite monuments to a rural past and sweat up the hills and limp back down. I imagine that one of those Lila’s had the same feeling of displacement here and longed to work in a mill in Lowell and join the girls at their Thursday night lectures dreaming of the excitement of a factory strike. I hope she made it and got to tell her grandchildren that she heard Emerson speak and attended a labor meeting with immigrant women from Lawrence. And I’ll tell my grandchildren that once I didn’t live in Lowell, that the dead of the other place welcomed me but the living had their doubts. More to the truth that I was the only one with doubts, I know, but it’s my story and I’ll likely be telling it as I walk my grandchildren through the Lowell cemetery, making a bouquet of orange leaves to place in the paws of the old stone lion before he’s put into protective custody for the winter. And I won’t care who drives by.

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