Friday, October 23, 2009

Natives



Ozro Sherwin
Levi Lincoln Lee
Submit S. Stebbins
Phila Orcutt
Capt. Eleazer Frary
Elisha Clark
Capt. Noah Look

All these names of long-gone residents of Cricket Hill make me jealous: they were really “from” here. (Or so I romantically suppose.) As a ‘native’ of a suburban L.I. town, I’ve had adult-life-long envy of people with roots in places like this one. People in this town who’ve been raised here by parents themselves raised here intimidate me. Recently found myself envying a woman around my age who wasn’t born here but moved here as a child with her family, lived her prior adult life elsewhere but, parents and brother still here, moved back after raising her own family.

In my life, I consider myself “from” a town where my family lived for twelve years. I’ve lived here, on this hill, longer than anywhere else.

All those names in the Cricket Hill cemetery: I am related to many of them. Related by walking over the same ground, related by listening to the quirky chirps of the genetic descendents of the squirrels they heard as they walked to the barn or to the schoolhouse or to the mill. Some of them actually held this place in their hearts – home – I’m sure. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel more than a privileged visitor, a temporary resident with great admiration for the sky as seen from this hill and the sunrises over the valley below. Although in the dark of a warm late October wee-small-hours night, sleeplessly listening to the wind blowing through the dry leaves still on the trees outside the open window, to the accompaniment of Petey’s low-decibel snoring, it felt like this is as close as I’m going to get.

Some months ago I found myself in a sort of little left-behind town in Rensselaer County, New York where several generations of my antecedents lived in the first half of the nineteenth century, walking through the old cemeteries looking for some of the names I’d researched – Crandall, Burdick, Green – and finding some of the surnames though none of the particular individuals I’d hoped for. My antecedents came there from Rhode Island and left for Illinois a couple of generations later. How many generations of residence make it a family’s home? And what did they leave behind when they went that connects me to the place today? Names on gravestones? The plain fact of having been there? Their faith?

And, with an eye toward the upcoming day of the dead, a few epitaphs from Cricket Hill cemetery:

Reader you all so shortly
Must
be stripped of life &
turned to dust.
(Betsy Adams, died 1803, age 18)

Boast not thyself of to
morrow, for thou know
est not what a Day
will bring forth.
(Capt. Abel Dinsmor, died 1803, aged 67)

Death is a debt to nature due
Which I have paid and so must you
(Ezra Marsh, died 1833, aged 23)

Unshaken as the sacred Hill
and firm as Mountains be
Firm as a rock the soul shall rest
That leans O Lord on thee
(Mr. Judah Clark, died 1805, age 45)



1 comment:

GREEN KEY said...

Joe, this is a lovely post. I have also pondered this question of belonging to a place. I also grew up in suburbia - and have always felt a little ripped off about being the first generation since pre-revolutionary times to be raised outside of New York City.

I haven't visited a small new England cemetery in a while - you've inspired me to go to one. When I lived in Montague Center years ago I used to visit the old cemetery there regularly. They are such direct, poignant connections to the history of a place. I love that angel's wide-eyed, crazy stare!