Sunday, March 31, 2013
I've never shied away from the ocean, save for when I was very young and the thought of swimming in the waters of the polluted Boston Harbor just grossed me out. But I've always taken every opportunity I could to be on the sea, whether by ferry, a Coast Guard vessel as a reporter, a lobster or fishing boat, whatever. I've been aboard a few sailing vessels, but could never be considered a sailor.
I envy those people who are. You can tell who's real and who's a fake by the way they talk, by their tans, and by the wrinkles around their eyes. And you can tell by their level of relaxation compared to that of the rest of the world.
George Schneider was a sailor. In fact, he was "A good sailor, a good man, a good mate," according to his loved ones. His stone is even in the shape of a sailboat, and stands within viewing distance of the ships of Mystic Seaport Museum. As I took my picture of it, the Amistad rested quietly at the dock in the distance.
I'd love to claim parts one and three of George's epitaph, but that's not up to me. But who knows? Someday I may claim part two.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
There's something to be said for the classics. Mrs. Fuller went with the beautiful words of British Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." For the sake of giving the writer her due, let's finish the thought.
"I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death."
One can see why Mrs. Browning was one of the most widely read poets of her time.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Well, it's obvious I undershot the number. When I conceived of this project, I thought it would be cool to read 10,000 tombstones, but the truth is that I hit that number part way into the second month of the year. So we'll re-adjust. Let's go for 50,000.
One-fifth of the way there, we meet a Coast Guardsman. Not surprising, really. New London, not far from Mystic, is sacred Coast Guard ground, the home of the Academy. And John Thomas McKean. Lieutenant Commander, United States Coast Guard, was one who knew that. He only lived to 34, but it's obvious he was dedicated to his service, for the words on his tombstone are the first few lines of the Coast Guard Hymn:
"Eternal Father, Lord of Hosts
Watch o'er the ones who guard our coasts
Protect them from the raging seas
And give them light and life and peace.
Grant them from thy great throne above
The shield and shelter of thy love."
I'll talk more about the Coast Guard, and soon, for theirs has been, at times, a thankless job. But I have nothing but deep respect for those men and women who have dedicated their lives to saving others on the sea - which the service was still mainly focused on doing when LCDR McKean died. Missions change, but the spirit remains. Bravo Zulu, Commander.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Richard's stone will speak for itself:
"Sergeant, Company G, 61st Infantry, 5th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Born at Mystic, Connecticut, June 27, 1892. Died in Brest, France, March 5, 1919 while in line of duty. He was in action forty-four days in the World War participating at Saint Mihiel, Meuse-Argonnes, Vosges Mountains and Verdun Sectors. His remains were transferred from Lambezellec, Finisterre, France and re-interred June 7, 1920, with full military honors, under escort of Company D, Connecticut State Guard, and the Richard William Morgan Connecticut Post No. 55 American Legion. Beloved son of Christopher and Edith Noyes Morgan. Glory be the memory of him whose bouyant life was given in the service of his country."
Typically, American Legion posts and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in local communities were named for the first military person to die in World War I and World War II respectively. Sadly, Morgan died after the end of World War I, and appreciably so, by four months. Americans were returning home by the thousands, returning to loved ones. Despite the cessation of hostilities, and the fact he had survived some of the nastiest fighting of the war, Morgan was one of the 117,000 Americans to die in the war, and one of 37 million people worldwide.
Freakin' waste. Imagine what good might have come from even one of those lives, had it been spared? Cure for cancer? for other diseases? other advances we haven't reached yet because a viable young mind had been snuffed out? The lost possibilities boggle the mind.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Well, hello Mystic, Connecticut! With a late morning appointment (late morning to me being 9 am) at the Mystic Aquarium, I decided to get out and walk the Elm Grove Cemetery for a while, just to see whom I could meet.
I met Henry.
Henry was born in Mystic, but made his impact felt in another place - south central Georgia, of all locales. As a seafaring man, he worked as engineer on a New York-Gulf Coast steamer, before taking a job managing an uncle's manufacturing firm in Albany, Georgia. Taking some saved money, he bought some land along the Brusnwick and Western rail lines in 1872, erected a sawmill, employed workers, and built a thriving town: Tifton, Georgia. It boomed in 1888 when a second rail line intersected with the first, making Tifton a crossroads. Tift County grew from the success of Tifton.
Henry - known from his early days as "Captain," as many from Mystic were, and are - became a philanthropist in his later years. In his final year, he returned to Mystic, where he was buried in 1922 beneath a massive stone with his name on it, and a smaller one that says "Father and Founder of Tift County, Georgia."
I sometimes wish I had been born in an earlier age, when the ladder to climb wasn't quite so tall. This is not to take anything away from men like Henry at all, for they are my idols. I just wonder what I would have done had I had more of a blank slate on which to work. But, che sera, sera, as we have already seen. Besides, who the heck would want to live in Galluzzo County?
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Dreams seem to come up a lot in cemeteries, as, in the end, they're benchmarks. But Timothy Cardwell makes a good point.
Let's go all Shakespeare on this thing:
"To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause."
Let's face it, not everybody dreams big. For some, life is a slow and steady shuffle from birth to death, as meek and orderly and predictable as can be. For others, life is adventure, nay, adventure is life. There are mountains to climb, rivers to ford, planes to catch, worlds to explore. But such a life is only for those folks willing to make sacrifices.
Ask yourself - where is it that I want to go? What do I want to do? Am I waiting for someone to open a door for me? Or do I think like Timothy Cardwell did? "He Dared tio Live his Dreams."
Monday, March 25, 2013
(Sorry for the delay - I've had the flu).
It's one thing to take it literally, and in Roy's case, I think that's the way it is. After all, besides the words "Keep in Truckin'" written on his gravestone, there's a drawing of a truck.
So, born in 1932, is it safe to say that Roy was "truckin'" in the 1970s? I think we can assume so. And since this is my write-up, we will. Think of the CB culture that came out of that era. America's cross-country interstate highway system grew out of the post-World War II era of renewed freedom. By the '70s we had great big convoys, running through the night. Freight was being moved in ways it never had before, as previously it had all been confined to train lines, boats and our early planes.
But the phrase "Keep on Truckin'" came out of more than just that. The phrase, brought to public prominence by artist Robert Crumb in 1968, with his series of long-striding cartoon men, epitomized the feel-good lifestyle of the hippies - which was not his intention at all. Strangely, the hippies have mostly gone away (I still know a few), but the big rigs and their drivers are here to stay. It's not a jump to assign the words to a trucker, as the hippy culture has mostly left our psyche, but it wasn't it's original meaning, either. Either way, I hope Roy and his friends, wherever they may be, are still doing what they loved most. Truckin'!
Sunday, March 24, 2013
OMG! I found Walter Muir Whitehill! Whitehill was a historian and medievalist, a professor at Harvard and director of the Boston Athenaeum. He also wrote a book called Boston, A Topographical History, one of my all-time local favorites (yes, I'm a historian groupee on tp of being a historian). But wait...something doesn't make sense.
Whitehill wrote the book in the 1940s, but it says here that he died in 1933...Ohhhhh, I get it. His dad had the same name. This is the dad.
At least he had an interesting tombstone. And his wife (Walter, Jr.'s mom) is buried right alongside, with an old-fashioned style stone. She even has a little Latin on hers: Post tenebras spero lucem. "After darkness, I hope for light."
Don't we all.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
The more I learn about our World War I veterans, the more I've come to see that I really don't know much about World War I.
Ralph Packard, one of our youngest World War I soldiers, served with the U.S. Marine Corps, hopefully just in 1918 (he was born in 1900). He didn't carry a gun; he was a "Trumpeter."
As one might guess, being a trumpeter in the Marines came with its share of tradition. After all, somebody had to put the pomp in "Pomp and Circumstance." And until 1892, Marine trumeters probably did. But after that date, things changed. No longer could Navy ship's captains design their own playlists. And no longer could they employ fifers to go along with drummers and trumpeters. The Marines had done away with them, too, in 1881. No, in 1892, the Navy standardized the sounds of the Navy day.
Ralph Packard may have met a few old-time fifers, who joined their American Legion bands around the time of the World War, but to them, he was the new breed, someone who had no concept of the way life used to be in the Corps. What interesting times to live in.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Back in Hanover.
At nearly 9,000 stones in, I'm seeing a lot of repeats. I'm finding fewer new stone styles, fewer new sayings. I've feared a rather quick activation of the law of diminishing returns; every good saying could be the last one I get for a while.
Our friend Bruce didn't surprise me architecturally. The stone's construction was in the shape of a book standing on end. But the words got me. They got me because they described me perfectly.
"He fed his spirit with the bread of books."
Yikes. I saw myself in the stone. I mean, it even had a Red Sox log carved into it, something I'm seeing more of every day.
But Bruce got to the saying first. I won't be using it, but I will always be saddened that I never met him. He sounds like my kind of guy, someone I could have talked to for days on end, about Shakespeare or shortstops, fiction or fly balls. My kind of guy, I tell ya.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
When all else fails, go with superlatives. That is the lesson of the Duxbury Murphys.
There have been many William Murphys in this world. But this one was apparently the best. And there have been many other men named Murphy in this world - Patricks and Josephs and Charlies. But this one outdid them all.
There have been Smiths and Joneses and Carpenters, Rodriguezes and Washingtons. There was Hulk Hogan. Still is, I guess. John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. There have been some pretty imrpessive Roosevelts, Jeffersons and, dare I say, Galluzzos.
But none of them measure up whatsoever, to William J. Murphy, "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived."
I love it! But I doubt I'm even in the running.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
We just had our first catchphrase, a couple of stones ago, right here in Duxbury, in the same cemetery. Now we come to our second. It comes from a 77-year-old woman who has instantly become one of my all-time favorite people. "Have you seen my tattoo?"
Sadly, though, it's not a phrase that I could use, even if I wanted to steal it. To this day, I remain entirely uninked, despite one dalliance with the notion of marking up my shoulder. I have always said that if I got a tattoo, it would have to mean something deeply important to me. I even came up with a design.
I envisioned an open tome, with a quill pen. The pen had ink flowing out of it, finishing the last swoop on the cursive phrase "I write therefore I am" in Latin.
As chance would have it, at one point in my life, I met a beautiful young Latin teacher. I told her of my plans, and she handed me a note with the words "Scribo Ergo Sum" written on it - right under her phone number. My left eyebrow raised involuntarily.
Could that be it? Should my tombstone say "Scripsi, Ergo Eram" (I wrote, therefore I was)? It would at least save me a trip to the shady side of town. Thanks, Barbara, you got me thinking.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Seriously? I hope that the folks who wrote this epitaph had a little humor in their hearts.
But first, the stone. There seems to have been a retro movement, somewhere in the 1920 or 1930s. And by that I don't mean a retro fashion movement, in which young people look back or thirty years and pull elements out of the past and into their future for their wardrobes. (For instance, I'm wearing leg warmers right now). No, this was a multi-century reachback, back to seventeenth and early eighteenth century New England.
The Joys' stone, placed in the 1960s, mimics an ancient burial ground marker, a domed rectangluar slab of slate with an angel of death carved into the top. It gives, weirdly, a modern-day person a sense of austerity. And the words below are almost Edward Gorey-like: "Nothing is forever and this too shall pass."
Death isn't permanent? I guess if I thought more religiously I would take the whole afterlife thing into consideration: our separation from the Joys is only temporary, as we'll all be reunited in the hereafter.
But that's the beauty of life, isn't it? Our personal right to twisted misinterpretation? I prefer the notion that the Joys truly believed death could be overcome. Call me strange. Go ahead. You know you want to.
Monday, March 18, 2013
As a writer, I dig playing with the English language. I've studied linguistics and logic, I've read poetry, I've reveled in the various and varied ways we can utilize the words we have inherited as speakers of different tongues. I've spoken French and Italian in conversation, I've learned some Dutch, even some Finnish. Those were just to pick up women, though.
I love spoonerisms. I enjoy anagrams. And I find alliteration groovy.
But alliteration can be tough. Finding three or four words that can be used in a row to present a coherent thought is difficult enough; finding three or four that start with the same letter is a true challenge.
A.J.'s family found it to be no problem whatsoever. "Irreverent, Irresistable, Irreplaceable."
Deftly done, Duffys.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
I'm not a sitcom character. What you are reading is real, typed by an actual person, not even one using a nom de keyboard.
As such, I do not have a catchphrase. There's no "What you talkin' 'bout Willis?" or "Did I do that?" I don't walk into a room, stick both thumbs up in the air and say, "Ayyyy!" Not often, anyway. I haven't lived out my professional life with people holding their breath until the perfect sitiation arises for me to say "Kiss my grits!"
Sometimes, I feel like I should have a catchphrase, like Big Al obviously did. Besides adding the "Big" to his tombstone, his family and friends made sure they memorialized him with the words "Hey, what's going on?"
"Not much, my friend," I said. After all, I assume it was meant as a conversation starter.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
I've been looking for something creative, something different in our cemeteries, and I've found something along those lines.
Bobbie inspired her family, that's obvious, and rather than just letting her go with the standard stone, they went with the bench. Ok, not original, right? Here's the twist: they created a word collage, using different font sizes, italicization and boldness to highlight the memories that came to mind when they thought of her.
If we read from the top left, like reading a book, we get "Mom." From there, the joy comes in the wanderlust of the eye: "Compassion," "Laughter," "Dignity." Some need explanation, like "Chaos." One phrase means more to me than it would to most others, and it made me laugh when I saw it: "Wood stove." After the Blizzard of 1978, when we lost power, and therefore our electric baseboard heating, my parents went out and bought a wood stove, and my mother has used it ever since. It's an object I've associated with her since I was a kid.
Having gone through four family deaths in the last five weeks, and seeing how much stress can be involved in what should be simple things like writing obituaries, headstone selection and even whether or not money should be sent to chairty in lieu of flowers, I think that this stytle of remembrance offers a wide array of family input - everybody has the chance to throw in a word or two.
I'm just scared of what my family would choose. I may have to outlaw some words in a legalized document before I go. I'd hate to be forever remembered for "Stinky feet."
Friday, March 15, 2013
Back in Duxbury again.
I hate to dredge up bad memories. I suppose any study like this tends to do that no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Usually, someone, somewhere is still hurting at the loss of a loved one I'm mentioning. I'm sorry for that fact.
But in this case, I think the family wanted John's story told, for after all, they paid to have these words carved into his tombstone: "Killed by a drunken driver."
I remember doing a study on crime in my hometown of Hull in the beginning of the 1900s. The town was growing as a summer resort and as a year-round community. More people simply equaled more crime. But I could pinpoint the exact moment when somebody was arrested for erratic operation of an automobile while under the influence of alcohol - the first DUI. It's been all downhill since across the United States. Twenty-seven people die every day because of it, although that nuimber has been cut in half since the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1980.
That doesn't help John Deloid III, of course. And I'm with the family. I'm pissed off, too.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The music world strikes again! This one is a throwback, an oldie but a goodie that predates even the oldies we hear on the radio. Who plays swing music any more? What DJ says "And now, cats and kittens, it's time to spin some vinyl grooved with the tracks of our main man Glenn Miller, the king of swing, the man who gets us off our seats and onto our feets. In the Mood!"
And we all know how the song goes. Our friend William must have known how it went. He was born in 1926, and the song hit #1 on the charts in 1940, when William was 13 or 14 years old. Think about it! What music defines you? If you're in your early forties like me, you think about the early eighties. Music has major power over us in our teens, when we think deeply about lyrics for the first time and how they reflect and describe our own lives. We later learn it's a bunch of crap, but for the short-term, music can rule us.
I'm a little jealous of William. I've often said if I could travel in time my first stop would be 1941, and mostly for the music. Give me some "Tuxedo Junction" or "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and drop me in a zoot suit (which I think would be a very good look for me, with a little pencil-thin mustache) and I'd be in heaven. Like William.
But no. I get the Eurythmics.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
I add this stone's story here because of one word: "Cenotaph."
Arnold is apparently not buried here. Frances, who worked long years in the Norwell schools' cafeterias is, but the very word "cenotaph" means "empty tomb." I don't know what became of Arnold.
We see many cenotaphs, but just don't regularly call them by that name. Consider markers deliberately placed in remembrance of soldiers who never came home; we've already seen one in this study. The ancient Greeks and Romans littered their country with them, but they've become a smaller, if steady, presence in American graveyards.
When my family erects my cenotaph...I mean "if" my family erects my cenotaph (I'm pretty sure I'll have a monument dedicated to me somewhere, probably where pigeons will roost on my head all day, whitewashing my shoulders - no wait, that's my statue!), I'm not sure I actually want the word cenotaph on there. I find it intriguing that a family would spend their stonecutter dollars that way, and now I really wonder how many stones I've seen under which I assumed the dead rested, but stood on empty ground.
A mystery! I love it. I'm good at coming up with questions I can never answer on my own.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Our friend Laura Krasausk in Hanover got the first salute from me in this blog for a female member of the military. So the story had been told, but I feel I have to offer a second.
"Chickie" Beaman, "CPL" served her country like many other women in World War II, but not as a WAC, WAVE or SPAR. She served with the United States Marine Corps as a "Marinette." The Marines have long been known as the "First to Fight," trained for amphibious landings, to take beach heads, to take the worst the enemy has to offer. The tradition goes all the way back to the American Revolution.
But the scale of World War II, as we have seen, brought women into work forces into which they'd never even supposed they'd fit. As the war dragged on in two theaters, more and more men were needed in combat, meaning homeland military jobs had to be filled with women. All the Marines needed during World War II was a force of approximately 20,000 Marinettes. They served in many roles, from bakers to aerial gunnery instructors. And - I love this fact - they have a direct tie to Massachusetts. Their officers trained at Mt. Holyoke College in the western part of the state.
So Chickie served. I don't know what she did, but I know she was a Marine like my dad was a Marine, and for that fact alone she earns my eternal respect. Semper Fi, Chickie.
Monday, March 11, 2013
What a simply done, beautiful tombstone. I found myself with an hour to kill, and then found myself in a cemetery in Norwell. To this point, I can't find a name for it, but it's directly across the street from St. Helen's, so I'm surmising there must be a connection.
Anyway, back to David. His stone has just three superfluous words, but a drawing to go with them. The drawing is the head of a bulldog with a collar, and the salutation apparently addresses him: "Good Night, Chet."
At least, that's the way I'm reading it. It could be that the dog was speaking, and he called Horgan Chet. But I doubt that. No matter how you look at it, it's a lovely remembrance of what was apparently a special relationship between man and best friend.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
I'll admit it. Some burial grounds just give me the creeps. This one - Liberty Plain in Hingham - was one of them.
Perhaps the recent storms had something to do with it. The place was unkempt, beaten down by broken branches. Stones were knocked over, and many had aged poorly anyway and were illegible. It just felt spooky.
Mr. Heyl didn't help.
On his tombstone was a neat little poem, a verse that goes back to at least the 18th century in America:
"Remember me as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I;
As now I am so you must be,
Therefore prepare to follow me."
I got the sense that a spectre of an old man was going to rise from the grave and wiggle his fingers at me as he "wooooooed" like a cartoon ghost.
And with that, I left the Liberty Plain Cemetery.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
Is there anything more matronly than an old teacher?
Actually, at the start of the time that Helen Howard worked, apparently about 1881, if a woman wanted to teach, she had to be unmarried. There was a stigma attached to married women, or at least a knee-jerk reaction to the notion that they had seen too much of...well, let's face it, too much of their husband's bodies. A woman who had had sex was seen as somehow too impure to teach children. If a woman wanted to marry, she had to leave the teaching profession.
But such old Victorian sensibilities and restrictions died, thankfully. Imagine how far we've come in just a century! But Helen was probably of that former ilk, probably never married, and instead dedicated her life to educating young minds. Her tombstone tells it all: "For forty-one years a beloved teacher in the schools of Hingham." Beloved, that is, in a time when a transgression could be remedied with a whack across the knuckles with a ruler. Now that's saying something.
Friday, March 8, 2013
I can't tell you the connection through which I knew of this man when I was young, a I've been sworn to secrecy. But I can tell you that he was as creative as one gets.
His sensitivities changed book design forever in the 1920s and 1930s, and he even coined the term "graphic designer" to describe the wide array of stylistic work that he undertook. I mean, the man designed typefaces, people. Hit the list in your favorite word processing software and dabble in Caledonia to see a little of the Dwiggins mind at work.
But Dwiggins, or WAD as he called himself, had a second love: marionettes. He carved his own, and put on his own shows, just steps from this cemetery. The Boston Public Library accepted his troupe a decade after his death.
Poetically, he died on Christmas Day (let's face it, somebody has to, but it seems fitting for someone who lived life the way he did). It seems he didn't mind. He had fun with his life, as stated in his epitaph: "It was a grand adventure - I am content."
Thursday, March 7, 2013
I got really excited when I found Mr. Cole, but I don't think it was him I was excited about. As far as I can tell, through the moss on his tombstone, it's him, his wife and a third person (an offspring?) listed. But I can't make out much more than "Rochelle" in the surname of the third. Whoever that person was, though, was a "Telephone Pioneer."
Yes! I thought. An inventor! But it turned out I was wrong. So wrong.
The Telephone Pioneers of America formed in 1911 with none other than Alexander Graham Bell holding membership card number 1. And while the members all worked in the communications industry, the work of the Pioneers, as they're known today, was and is charity. Mostly they work with kids, but they exist solely to make lives for other people better.
Well, I guess I can't fault them for that. Besides, I have thousands of stones to go. I'll find a dead inventor someday.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
See, now this is what I'm talking about. The Rizzotto family strikes again, this time with three words that helped form a quick, simple vision in my head: "The Little General."
As I grew up, my grandmother was the woman in charge of her household, and with more than 20 grandchildren, seven of her own kids, not to mention friends and neighbors to feed at holiday gatherings, someone had to be the boss. Though she's long dead, I can still see her with that apron on, hands on hips, deigning to offer me thirty seconds before she moved onto the next batch of anisette cookies.
We had a family friend with whom we worked in my landscaping days, an old Italian who actully returned to the home country every year to tend to his olive trees. Yes, he was that Italian. Some mornings we'd stop by to pick him up for work, and woe be he who had no time for a quick espresso. His little general gave the stare of death if you turned down her food. Funnily enough, his English was not that good, even after forty years of slinging back and forth between the continents. When explaining a story, he's say, "My wife, he no like to cook."
"Who?" we'd say.
"Him," he'd retort, pointing at Betty.
So, Rizzottos? Let's just say I know the type. Thanks for the memories.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Whoa...now we're talking.
So I've bumped into Steve Casey and Jerry Williams, a crusher and a talker. Now I've found a doer. Robert Curtis Wright's stone tells us that he was a "Manhattan Project Scientist, World War II," and although a quick internet search hasn't turned up anything that verifies these words, I must say that Mr. Wright certainly played the scientist role well. Attached to his name are a list of patents for things like superconductors, a tornado alarm, "snap-acting pneumatic relays" and a "fleixble cold finger for cooling samples to cryogenic temperatures."
Think Manhattan Project, and the first name that should pop into your head is Oppenheimer. But in reality it was a huge effort. Forty thousand people - most of then Navy personnel - were on hand to watch the explosions on Bikini Atoll, called Operation Crossroads. And how prophetic was that name; we were moving from the Industrial Age into the Nuclear Age at the time. If ever there was a crossroads in American history, in world history, that was it.
There was another Robert C. Wright, a corporal with the Air Force, who worked as a radio operator passing news from his B-17 to ground forces at Kwajalein during the Operation, but he wasn't our Robert Curtis Wright.
What I wouldn't have given to sit with him and just listen for a while.
Monday, March 4, 2013
I'm finding a trend. Well, another one, anyway.
Certain people, I've found, found it important to tell us that they weren't born here, wherever here is, if you catch what I mean. Let me give you a frinstance.
Frinstance, there is the tale of Alice Russell, born in 1867, died in 1888, apparently in Hingham. Her tombstone tells us nothing more than name, those dates and "Born at Calcutta, East India."
In a way, I take offense. What's wrong with being born here, wherever here is? Is it too embarrassing to die in Hingham without staking a final claim to being a Calcuttan? But then I think, what's wrong with a little hometown pride? I know I like to toss out my South Shore of Boston roots when asked. Will I put it on my gravestone?
Well, I supopse if I die in Calcutta, there's a chance...
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat. It's not risotto. You pronounce the last two syllables in the name as "auto." They're people - real, Italian people - not a lobster dish.
I get defensive about them because these were my father's people. Dad grew up next to the Rizzotto family, and I know one who came to his wake after not having seen him for decades. I'll always be grateful for that fact.
But check it out! Mary "Served in O.S.S." during World War II. How cool is that? What's that stand for, you ask? Well, it is a dead acronym: "Office of Strategic Services." Need more? How about it was the forerunner of the C.I.A. That's right, Mary was a spy! Either that or a receptionist at headquarters, but who's counting. All I know is that very few people were chosen to serve with the O.S.S., but Mary was. Our Mary. A real Italian person from my dad's hometown. Now I wish I had met her.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
I've come to find that there's nothing truly original on most of the stones dating back beyond 1950. And the times that I do find something I think is imaginative in nature on an older stone, it turns out to be Biblical.
Take for instance, our friend Daniel Souther (and Hingham cemeteries are full of Southers and Fearings and Burrs - and I think I even saw a Fearing Burr). I was blown away when I saw the words beneath his name, scored into the stone in 1809: "Jesus can make a dying bed soft as downy pillows are."
Holy crap! I thought. But it turned out I was right. Believe it or not, the line comes from an ancient English hymn. It was holy crap.
But all was not lost. I now had traced the line of downy pillow history back to 1809. How far back did it go? While pillows go back to prior to the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the first know use of the word was at least prior to the twelfth century. One of the earliest records of goose down feathers as trade items goes back to 16th century Russia, which makes sense. Down is the soft, warming layer of feathers a bird keeps next to its skin. Whatever the Russians were doing with it when they bartered for it, it was for warmth.
But dopwn pillows were a luxury item, which adds zest to the words on Daniel's stone. It's like us saying, "Jesus makes the trip to Heaven like riding in a Maserati." You know, like Eddie Izzard said. At God's speed.
Friday, March 1, 2013
When I was but a wee lad, my hockey team held a raffle. We wore black and gold (like the big bad Boston Bruins of the 1970s) and every year participated in tournaments as well as playing our regularly scheduled youth hockey league season. We only got our team name for Hull Youth Hockey after February 1978. As we skated onto the ice of the Cohasset Winter Gardens for the annual Lobster Pot Tournament, the announcer called out, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Hull Blizzards!"
Anywho, one year, as I said, we held a raffle, and I believe the prize was a pair of lobsters (so we could skate in the Lobster Pot, get it?). The drawing was held at the Hull Fire Department on A Street, right in front of the fire trucks. My dad, who was one of the coaches (as was fireman Nicky Russo, for whom my brother was named), gave me the bowl and asked me to pull out the winning ticket.
"Russell...Bonanno," I said in my third or fourth grade voice.
"That's me!" a fireman sitting in a chair directly in front of me bellowed with a hearty laugh. I thought, at first, that he was kidding. "First" lasted until now.
Now I stand before the grave of Russell Bonanno, Hull fireman. Dad gum, I'll bet you it was him. Now, I finally get to meet him. He was born in 1930, and so was in his forties, probably right around fifty when I drew his name. He served in the Navy, in the Korean War, no less, and yes, he ws a Hull fireman. All of this I learned from his gravetstone and military marker. As far as I could tell, only two words were missing, two words that would make his story complete.
Somewhere on his tombstone should be the words "Raffle winner." For that's how I will always remember him.