Tuesday, January 1, 2013

1. Nathaniel O. Pratt



And that's when my car died.

I know I'm tempting fate by focusing so much on death, but in reality, I think I've got a pretty solid rationale for taking on this project. Having just gone through the death of my father and seeing the work - and money - involved in the interment process, I want to make things as simple as possible for my family, when the time comes. Which I hope is far away. Very, very far away. Like I hope nobody's even started to plot out the calendars yet. Like Christmas 2070. (It's a Thursday. No need to count, and you'll probably get that Friday off, too, unless you work for a total tool).

There's a lot to do: casket, headstone, choosing who does the readings in the religious houses, limos, flowers, etc. I hope to cut it all off at the pass by making a binding contract with a funeral home so that my family won't even have to think about it. And if I can sneak in my last words - and don't we all love to get the last word? - I will.

But to have my car "die" on me on day one? Come on, too weird.

Ironically, it happened on the first night in my new house. My wife and sons hadn't even moved in yet, and there I was in a strange new neighborhood, no car, no food, no television for the bedroom yet so I had to schlep all the way downstairs to watch the ball drop then drag myself all the way up upstairs again to get some sleep. Hey, I moved furniture all day. I was beat.

So, when I awoke in the morning, I had no choice. To find my cemetery, to start my project, I had to walk. Oh gee. Oh no. Not that. Don't make me walk.

The West Hanover Cemetery is a small, private affair on the edge of one of my favorite open space parcels in Hanover, Massachusetts. We were in the throes of the deepest cold stretch we'd had in more than two years when I set out. Snow from earlier in the week had never left the trees and shrubs, icing in place, giving the world that magical appearance so beloved around Christmas, but so hated in late January. French's Stream runs behind the cemetery, and at that moment provided a small pocket of open water around which the wildlife gathered, a deer, a cardinal, a chickadee, a red-bellied woodpecker.

I examined my first stones, all descendants of three families. The historic notes attached to the cemetery say that there were probably many more than the 19 stones I saw standing on this day, that vandalism has surely ocurred over the past century and a half. Of the 19, one stood out: Nathaniel O. Pratt.

Poor Nathaniel died at 25 in 1848, and his wife Michal died four months later at 21. They had lost two children by then, one at 1 year, one at 7 months. Their epitaph:

"Farewell father, farewell mother,
God will heal your deepest pain;
Farewell, too, dear weeping brother,
Soon in heaven we'll meet again."

Yeesh. I suddenly didn't know if I wanted to do the project any more. Death really sucks.

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