Saturday, September 20, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LII

Lieutenant Daniel Shelton, the first of his family to settle in the town that now bears their name.  The lichen grows thick on his stone, but careful observers can still make out the name.

On my father's side of the family, the Irish and Italian, we're recent immigrants; solidly 20th century.  The Rileys and Kennedys on my mother's side go back to the potato famine. The Quebecois stretch back to the 1600s, but that side also migrated to the states in the 20th century.  Much of my family's world began in the mill towns of Northern Massachusetts.  The Italians fared better opening up a diner in Hartford that was a stop-off for musicians in the Jazz Age. Our roots were shallow and therefore easy to pull up.  The family tree has fared well in new soil from California to North Carolina.  We've done well, but my heart still belongs to the little Connecticut hill town where the bones of the founding families lie thicker than glacial rock in the fields.  Some of them are still farming there and burying their dead in the same plots as their long-fathers.

So what does it feel like to always be on the outside looking in?  To be Pip, Charles Ryder, Walter Mitty, never a Sebastian, an Estella, or even a Charles Dexter Ward?  I don't know.  But the trees still sing and dance for me when I come home, the sky weeps, and the sunlight falls over the valley like a door opening on the first morning of the world.  In those times, I feel most at home among the dead.  He who overcomes I shall make a pillar in the temple of my God and he shall never leave.  They have entered into their rest and their reward but, for me, the rough work of the world is still to do.  So I have to turn my steps again, as I did all those years ago, and bid my dead farewell.  I don't know if I'll ever really come home.  That's a privilege for w.a.s.p.s -we mics have to make our own way.  Yet Israel asked to be buried in the land of Canaan, by the oaks of Mamre, and when the Israelites went back they brought the body of Joseph out of Egypt with them. So for me it may be a coffin in Egypt.  We will not all of us sleep, but we all will all of us be changed. 

I met a sexton in a cemetery in Derby.  He was an immigrant from Portugal and he new every grave in that vast necropolis and all its history like the back of his hand.  He asked my wife and I if we were doing genealogical research; if we were looking for family.  I told him we were looking for an author of a book and two of her family that she mentioned.  Jane de Forest Shelton was there, and so were Aunt Mary and Glorianna.  I told him we were looking for people from a book, but I was looking for family.

When these things are washed away,
The River will keep flowing,
Wei la lei
And the daughters of the river god all sing:
Be mindful of these bones,
Be mindful of these bones.
Wash them, cradle them,
Lay them in the earth,
Till they lie
As thick as glacial rock
In the twinkling of an eye
They will be changed.

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