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Living With the Dead


Point of graves in Portsmouth, NH (c)

In retrospect, I might have fared better on a baseball field. But the Celtic brain is a moody lump of haggis, the byproduct, perhaps, of too many tribal ancestors making the best of their dreary stone homes overlooking a bleak and misty moor. Like the little boy in the movie, we see dead people, but it's no big thing.

My father, I should mention, recently finished a computer database of 5,000 graves in the church cemetery where my mother has been a deacon. My middle brother Brian, is an archeologist, a digger of long-departed cultures. Youngest brother Jeffrey is a carpenter, but during a jobless spate he once dug graves in the very cemetery where I wandered away my youth. Finding skulls and bones, he says, was common when clearing fresh burial pits. Once, after the backhoe had done the major work, he was six-feet down, trimming out the vacant space between two resident tombs. By law, modern burials are now encased in concrete shells and, stretching out his hands, Jeff could easily touch the cement vaults on either side. Suddenly, he remembers, one wall collapsed, the concrete shield disappearing into hell, exposing the long-buried coffin within.

"I thought there was a corpse," I said, remembering the story. "Didn't a dead guy's hand fall out or a gory head or something?"

"Sorry," Jeff says. "That must be your writer's imagination at work. Just seeing that coffin suddenly appear was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies."

I still wander cemeteries in my middle age , still rub away the lichen, still search for stories just beyond that river of blood. And the dead zones are still everywhere, more prominent even than Dunkin Donut shops. In York, Maine, for example, thousands attended the recent harvest festival that winds between the Old Burying Ground and the First Parish Cemetery at the heart of the village. But there are more dead here, it seems, than living. In the town of York alone, another 200 burial sites survive.


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Thursday, February 22, 2018 
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