My trip home this past week took me to two significant places earlier in my life. The first I had only visited twice in the past twenty-five years; the area was hallowed ground. It was the final resting place of my maternal grandparents in Methuen, Massachusetts. I remember well the first time I had visited here, it was when we all had laid to rest my Italian grandfather, Anthony.
He was a lover of the outdoors. He spent the majority of his life laboring in an iron foundry. Working out in the yard even if it was 90 degrees was refreshing to him. Later in life when his health kept him from doing his beloved yard work, he’d sit at the porch window and frequently rap the window with his cane. He was a bird lover, but he hated it when they did their business on the window sills of the porch. There was nothing worse, at least he thought, than to see bird droppings all over the window casings by the bordering hedge. More than once we’d find him yelling at the window and scaring those pesky birds with his loud tapping on the window panes.
After his passing in December 1990, we had a granite marker engraved with his name on it. It was to be delivered and set in it’s customary place four months later in the coming Spring. My mother and grandmother were most anxious to visit and make sure the spelling was correct. After all, his last name Lumenello we’d seen spelled incorrectly over and over before.
I learned a truth from his passing, you can still find a bit of whimsy and humor in just about anything; even a cemetery. It was the first visit since the funeral by my mother and grandmother. My mom had gotten out of the car first and approached his headstone before my grandmother. As she stood looking at it, all she could exclaim was, “Good Lord!” My grandmother who walked a little slower yelled to her, “What? Did they spell his name wrong?” To which my mother answered back, “No, wait till you see this!”
As they stood at the foot of the marker they were stunned. Despite hundreds of other tombstones from which to choose, the birds had chosen just one to bombard; my grandfather’s. The tombstone was so marked with bird droppings, you could barely read his name. It looked as if someone had poured out a can of white and gray paint all over it. The birds had exacted their final revenge, apparently for his incessant tapping on the porch window the last few years of his life. My mother and grandmother got a fit of laughing in an otherwise dreary day. I believe my grandfather would have found it just as amusing as they did.
Now leaving the cemetery behind us, my parents and I traveled north into the White Mountains. We traveled through the town of Gorham and eventually found ourselves arriving at an old country road in the Shelburne Birches. As we made a left off Route 2 and entered the North Road, it looked almost the same except for a few subtle changes. All around me I could see the remnants of my childhood. Behind me was a vacant field that once housed seven homes for the employees of the Portland Pipeline. The pipeline was a vital conduit in getting crude oil from ships in Portland Maine’s harbor to refineries in Quebec, Canada. My paternal grandfather was foreman for the company. Now looking at the empty expanse of land where my grandparents house once stood, I was left alone in my thoughts.
It was the street in front of their house where I rode bikes with my cousins forty years ago. The ancient stone house, the only original structure still standing at the corner of the field was surprisingly restored and now was for sale. The corner of North Road and Route 2 also bore memories of the worse kind. For it was here at this spot that my grandmother and a neighbor friend were killed in a car accident as they were coming home from Christmas shopping.
I then drove about a mile down the road past my grandparents stone house. It remains the only home in the county built exclusively from river stones from the bank of the Androscoggin River. My grandfather took pride in his handwork bragging it was built to be fire proof. I had no doubt. Now empty and vacant, the unkempt home left me feeling the same way, empty. The days trip ended the way the previous day’s events began, at a cemetery.
As I stood at my grandparent’s grave site I marveled that if they were alive today, they’d be over 106 years old. It seemed only yesterday I had them in my life. The trip home to Tennessee gave me much to think about. I’ve taken a few moments to reflect on how fast time really has gone by. Though I want to see the humor in everything, some things are plainly sobering. American Poet John Godfrey Saxe penned these words in the late 1800’s that sums up my feelings from this trip to my boyhood home:
“I’m growing fonder of my staff; I’m growing dimmer in my eyes;
I’m growing fainter in my laugh; I’m growing deeper in my sighs;
I’m growing careless of my dress; I’m growing frugal of my gold;
I’m growing wise; I’m growing–yes,–I’m growing old.”
John…this story hit home with me also! I am a former “Pipeline Gal” who lived in one of those six houses in Shelburne while your grandparents were there. Your grandparents were part of my family and I loved them so much. Through your story, I followed you to their grave sites and down the North Road to Pappy’s beautiful stone house. Sorry to know it is now vacant, but then…no one could have the pleasure he endured in building it and living there. I never pass by the junction of Rt. 2 and the North Road but I don’t think of Ma and her tragic accident. God Bless and hold those fun memories of the great bike rides around the cottages that are no longer there.
Thanks for this, my bike-riding cousin.
The best trips we take are those bittersweet journeys that carry us back to yesteryears. Thanks for sharing yours.
Also, I have an email friend who lives in Methuen, MA. 🙂