it’s one thing…

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i want to love Meredosia–it’s my hometown.

It’s one thing to come home to visit and find the town decimated as if a war or the apocalypse happened while you were gone. Were the residents sleeping? Are they okay? Is there anyone left? ..recalling though, oh yes–it’s just the ramp coming through, access to the new bridge.

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The new bridge, necessary, crossing the Illinois River. but there? They took out the village park, the Veterans’ Memorial, the grocery store folded… everyone goes to Dollar General on the edge of town now for in between the absolutely necessary out-of-town shopping. There is no chicken salad special or $5 crackers anymore. DG won’t run a tab for you and your family. The old Lutheran Church behind the park where my folks were married, gone some years ago and now the rest.. along with other resident’s homes on Main Street, gone.

How much can you relocate? Can you relocate the heart of a community? I’d really like to know because I’m trying to find it.

This time I come home to see not just more destruction but a sick, irreverent blow at the very roots of this village. There are so many things you may be looking for in a modern life that you will not find here. We can still assure you a few things. There will be more churches than bars but we’ll keep it a stiff competition. I believe we will always be able to boast people dug into their eccentricities, perhaps without neat labels maybe, but still–there is a certain freedom in all the peoples knowing your dirt for generations going back. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Family, history–and there is where my list both stops and gets complicated.

No longer can we offer a park, a fish market or grocery, the bandstand is next they say. There was a town doctor once but that was over long ago. Still, we have the funeral parlor where each one of us, I dare say, has likely sat still to mourn loved ones and ruminate on our own mortality. We will always have that, so long as there’s anyone left to care…

as well our little cemetery. Oakland Cemetery on the south edge of town.

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I have to wonder though, thus the piss and vinegar of this visit as Mom takes me over to the cemetery to see Papa’s (my grandfather) trees, all marked up for removal and yet still brilliant despite the spray paint.

those two lovelies together off in the distance

those two lovelies together off in the distance

See, the committee of town board members responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery has seen fit to crudely mark not just trees for removal on these personal burial plots but also to remove or damage, without warning or consideration, other markers and memorials throughout the cemetery. There is no rhyme or reason that I can note. The trees are not all dead and/or dangerous, the memorials and markers not all old and decrepit, certainly not unsightly and who gets to judge that anyway.

My understanding is that through an ordinance passed by the village, new trees and shrubs are not to be planted. I’m not even going to argue that one. It’s for another day. Thing is, these trees were planted a long long time ago, quite before the ordinance. I can’t speak for the rest of the trees marked up, but those on my grandparent’s plot were planted by my grandfather when his wife passed in 1975. I was less than a year old. These trees have grown with me. I recall first my grandfather and later my mother taking great care of those plots, the trees, tending potted flowers, placing grave blankets of pine needles at Christmastime…

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As I’m walking the cemetery, I recall a poem I wrote some years ago. I spent a great deal of time standing on the border of the cemetery looking out while at the babysitter’s.

How do they care for their dead? Important to ponder don’t you think?

Flowers, Mostly Plastic

in the back yard
I had a big mound of sand
two times, maybe three, my height
supposing to play in
sometimes I even did

building castles, forts and things
more often than not, I sat on the edge of the yard
where there was a plot of concrete
planned once for a basketball court, I think
there I would sit
on the cool cement among the abandoned,
rusting metal toy cars
and watch

I was watching the wind blow
and the shadow fall
I was watching every tiny distracting sense
of the moment
as it passed
in the graveyard next door

I watched the people come, though not often
I watched the flowers, mostly plastic
I watched them fall and tumble
I watched them scoot, almost play
one day here, another there
among the gravestones
I watched the seasons change
the leaves on the trees to the ground
and the man working
I would hide then, behind the shed
watching in secret

how do they care for their dead?
(I did not think of that then)
—-

Maybe part of the problem is contracting out the upkeep of the cemetery to the lowest bidder each year who could care less other than a paycheck. Get the job done and quick—less trees and markers, less things to mow around. Hell, maybe we should just pave it! Get rid of the gravestones while you’re at it… very unsightly.

No. I don’t know what is wrong with the board members, most especially our long-as-I-can-remember neighbor (leading the charge) who has in his lifetime enjoyed more meals at my family’s table than I care to think about right now. Why? Why is this even happening, I keep asking myself. I am really struggling here to understand.

I’m actually a bit of a connoisseur of cemeteries, weird as I am and I’m here to tell you, you are taking out the best parts and you are doing it in the worst possible way.

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Zero respect for the dead or their remaining family. It takes a lot to offend me. Words rarely do it. The dirty is in the deed and I am surely offended as such.

Resolution, I don’t know. Even if the fight no longer continues, a great rift remains.

Perhaps what is needed is a caretaker. If there is money for a contract, why not that money for a regular, seasonal position. Much like the one remembered in my poem. I have dug around a little to find out for certain who the man was but to no avail. My best guess is that it was Andy McDannald. It would have been late 70s/early 80s that I am recalling. Though I don’t remember words being spoken between us, I’m certain there probably were a few but nothing at length, mostly just me noticing someone taking great care over there of the graves and the grounds. Even though at that age I did not realize how important that was or why I would think it important to take note of in a poem later, I know seeing that felt right and good and comforting. How a person goes about a thing can make all the difference in the world. Approach with honor and reverence. If you cannot, do not approach at all.

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Finally, I will leave you with one more poem, written several years ago as I sat at Diamond Grove Cemetery (beautiful for all it’s old trees, stone angels and benches..), mourning a love lost and out of respect, love and remembering my Papa, his ways and his life.

papa3

Far left Violet & Harold “Spud” Bennett

Cemetery Poem (for my love)

i’m sitting here at the
cemetery
talking to myself
i think i’ll probably
be here awhile
be doing this
wondering all along
if it will be enough

this is where i go
when none of it makes sense
just so you know

where it is quiet
my mind quiets
there is some sort of peace
in the finality

i think of papa
his letters
sent home while
out on the river
or out to sea
for months
and months on end
starting the letter, stopping
and beginning again
if only a sentence or two
in between the work
that keeps him away

how he called her
my love
and still she
drank just a little too much
a little too often

all this i learn from old letters
see in yellowed photographs

how she stared off-center
with a sadness around
the eyes
only laughing in the photo
when he’s seated next to her
and all those years
since she died
he lived on, puttering
through life

i wonder if he
pretended she was there
for the rest of it
for the baseball games
over the radio
the mornings in the garden
the looking out over
everything
wondering…
what does it matter
anyway

today on duncan avenue
in diamond grove cemetery
it does not matter
i talk to myself
i will lie down
in the earth by myself
search for you
in the next life
and hope
it will be easier


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Michele McDannold is the author of Stealing the Midnight from a Handful of Days, a book of poetry available from PUNK HOSTAGE PRESS. She was the Editor-in-Chief at Red Fez Publications for five years and is currently the editor/publisher at Citizens for Decent Literature. She has an extensive collection of flannel and rubber chicken heads. For more, please visit michelemcdannold.com.

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6 thoughts on “it’s one thing…

  1. One of the most beautiful and moving pieces that i’ve read of your writing, I’ve read a lot of your work, mostly poetry. This is beautiful and adds so much to the poem. You writing about this is so important, giving back the honor and respect for those that are buried there and their loved ones. And why the fuck are they messing with such sacred territory, who gave them permission? Do they even have permission? Those headstones, grave sites, trees planted for the departed were payed and cared for by grieving loved ones. None of this seems right or decent. Not right at all…

    • Thank you, Iris. Those moments that we spend in that place can be so very jarring but also incredibly healing. “In My Life” i know you know… it’s upsetting for me personally and i try not to go there in anger but damnit my mother is a frickin rock and when i see and hear in her voice how upset she is, yuck. the board members are voted in and i’ve no idea how the committee members are selected but they do have authority and the responsibility of the cemetery upkeep as far as i know. the plots are purchased, so i would think there should be in the very least some consideration for the “owners” and their survivors. and that even in the absence of survivors, those responsible for setting the relevant ordinances and carrying out the day to day show the proper respect due.

  2. Bree-Anne Maricle

    I may have not frown up in meredosia but I learned who I really was in the small town called Chambersburg.. I would sit at the park after spending the day at the library reading book after book.. I moved to Chambersburg in sixth grade I’m now a junior at Jacksonville high school. But when I was walking around Meredosia I loved going to the grocery store just to visit with people.. I have to say your poetry and this article made me cry.. but what you said is true..

    • Thank you for your comments, Bree-Anne. I’m touched that the poems and article moved you so. I wouldn’t be who I am writing this poetry if not for my family and growing up in Meredosia. I sniffed every book in that little library at least a dozen times, libraries being nearly as sacred to me as cemeteries. I hope you’re still reading book after book, it will serve you well. :)

  3. Donald Allen Jr

    I was reading this article and found that the writer is a true Meredosian. So many points in the article were right to the point. Being born and raised in Dosh, and living across the road from the cemetery, I too have seen so many (non-beneficial) changes to the community. I make a trip to Meredosia at least once a year to see my family and friends, just to see more destruction being done to town. Yeah, yeah, we all understand you have to do it in order to get things better, but causing a lot of inconveniences and unsightly piles of dirt, debris, rocks, trash through the middle of town is really senseless. When I was young, I remember so vividly the caretakers of the graveyard taking a lot of pride in what they did to the grounds. Andy McDannold was the main guy and also Ray Floyd and another man. They pushed those lawn mowers around each and every tombstone, tree and gravesite and then ride the riding mower, and would be on their hands and knees pulling weeds from the graves as not to be disrespectful to the graves. Of course they had a brick storage shed in the cemetery to keep their tools and equipment. They worked every day (unless it rained) and the cemetery was very green and presentable.
    I know the town has lost a lot of good people that cared for and about the town and its people. Being safe and secure at your own home was key back when I was growing up. You didn’t have to lock your cars at night or your home, but now I understand you can’t trust anyone there any more. That is a dirty shame. The individuals who supposedly run the town, really should all sit down together with a bunch of concerned towns people and have a big discussion on serious issues such as security of stores, bars, churches, businesses and homes. I know it takes money to actually make things better physically, but it’s free to voice you opinion on concerns and things you know could be changed that would better the neighborhood.
    Didn’t mean to go on for so long, but it’s disappointing to see your home town fall apart right in front of their faces and hardly anyone really caring if it does or not. I loved it as a young person growing upon Dosh. Hardly any real issues to worry about. Thank you for writing the poems also, keep it up. Nothing tells the truth better than your own heart.
    God Bless all those who live in Meredosia and surrounding communities. I pray things will get better. Don’t give up hope. If everyone in town pulls together, it will work

    • Thank you, Donald. It is tough watching it and I just hope that things do take a turn for the better. There is so much potential there, all the surrounding beauty and gifts that can come from living in a small town. Of course it is the people that make up the village but they need those places and reasons to come together. I didn’t write this to seem passing judgement so much as just sharing how it is effecting some of us and I hope it encourages others to speak up and perhaps the conversation could move forward from a place of harm reduction. Healing not hurting. I am sending much love and good thoughts to all Meredosians past and present.

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