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.
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.
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
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
Far left Violet & Harold “Spud” Bennett
Cemetery Poem (for my love)
i’m sitting here at the
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
sent home while
out on the river
or out to sea
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
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
only laughing in the photo
when he’s seated next to her
and all those years
since she died
he lived on, puttering
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
what does it matter
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
it will be easier
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.