Sunday, August 1

Chapter 5:

Those Gone Before

Janet Forsem was buried there along with her husband. Together they raised their three children: Jesse, Lonnie and Buck, all of whom are buried beside them, along with their spouses. David and Anna Parson were there as well; all the gang from the old neighborhood was to their left: the Millers, the Fossens, the Goldsteins and the Davis’s. The MacGuyland’s were on the far side with their small clan: all of them immigrants from Scotland, and all of them died of the fever. Mr. Horace Winters sat alone under a simple plaque -- not very fitting for one so bold, brave and strong, always pushing the young men on to greatness: not in the war fields, but at home -- Boy Scouts troop No. 17 of Rock Grove. Only two of his boys from 17 had joined him: Charlie Wheeler and Ashley Samuel’s -- both killed in high-school by a drunk driver -- they were buried in the back, and their parents joined them many years later: after their daughter had been married for the second time and their first great-grandchild was born. They had a picture taken at the hospital of William standing with his son, grandson and great-grandchild -- Norman Min. His wife was gone first and he followed her to their double site under a marble arch. Norman followed only a few months later: his mother said it was because the world didn’t deserve him.

There stood a great statue of a dragon fighting a knight -- it stood over Martin Gordon the founder of the town erected in his honor at the town’s fifty-year mark; next to it was a small brass plate -- faded through the years -- of his only surviving child, Chester A. Gordon. They had been there and hauled the stones for the church in the front; long before the Evens were buried near the back gate that led to the park. The park was only a memory yet to be in the Gordon’s day: now, it was a memory for those who remained. Mr. Winters had taken the park into his own hands and had sculpted it into a place that generations had enjoyed. Myra Lewiston, the first stranger to the town to be buried there said that the moment she saw the flowers blooming neatly along the edges of the road lining the park, she knew she would stay in the town -- she never left again.

The single cross near the front gate was of Frederick Williams II whose father was buried in Safe Haven. Frederick had come over from Germany before the first war and had set up shop in a small corner building barely small enough to get into, but not large enough to pay the rent. He sold clocks. He made them too. The clock that stood in the center of town -- where the firehouse now sits -- was made by him, and given by him to the city when the war broke out. It was his way of sharing in America, and in the American dream. His dream never came true, and he made his biggest mark as the last man in the county to be lynched -- they didn’t like “his kind.” When the firehouse was put up, Doris Winters asked to keep the clock, and it was given her and her young son -- Horace. When he was twenty-four, Mr. Winters took the clock and made it run again. He made a housing for it, enclosed in glass, and placed it in the center of the park as a monument to those who had hated for no reason as if to say, “what you destroyed through hatred, I have redeemed through love.” It stood there -- running and untouched by vandals until the sixties when one young man threw a rock at it and broke the glass. It was Mr. Winters who repaired it. It was right after that Ashley joined Mr. Winter’s Boy Scouts -- to do his penance for his crime, but also to let Mr. Winters know how sorry he was. Mr. Winters never forgot that.

The Franklins, the Gobles, the Hague’s, the Martins -- all of them buried at random, or so it seemed, throughout the yard. All with simple plaques or headstones: none of them were rich, though they never lacked. Davis’, Leonard, Foray and Charleston lay toward the South, and the Ming’s to the North. It was Mr. Ming who purchased their plots -- well in advance of the first death in the family. It was his gift to his family: a piece of land for each of them: all he could afford. Lu Ming had a difficult time finding work after the second World War, but there was one man who saw past the last name: he helped Mr. Ming start a small shop -- laundry -- and provided him with customers as well. When Mr. Marvin Goble died, he was mourned by everyone in town, but none wept more bitterly than Mr. Ming who had not been able to repay his friend before his untimely death: stomach cancer. Mr. Ming paid for the funeral for Mr. Goble, and bought him the grandest headstone he could buy -- it was an ebony headstone that lay low to the earth. The words are still visible: Marvin Goble, 1875-1952, A giant among men, a friend to those below him.

It was Marvin who gave Peter Knight his first job as well. Peter was down and out, and had only come to town because the engineer had thrown him off the boxcar just outside of Rock Grove, forcing him to walk into town on his worn out soles. It was Mr. Winters who saw him first. At that time, he was working in the walnut groves for Mr. Goble as a summer job. He had seen Peter limping as he walked, and went over to help him over to the truck for some water and a job. Mr. Goble saw right off that Peter could use a job -- like half of America -- and so hired him. His wages were meager, but they were all Mr. Goble could afford during these hard times. When the war came, Peter joined the Army Air Corps, and was shot down on the flight to England. His body was never found, but that didn’t matter to the woman he loved. She was the one to buy his headstone.

The last person to be buried in the cemetery was Orin Johnson, great, great grandson of Gregory Johnson the first fire chief in town. Appointed by the town council, he kept the town fire free until his death in 1936. It was his own home that burnt down around him while he slept. Fitting. It was he who tore down the clock. The very instant he had word from the town council of the new fire station, he climbed into the tower and, with a crowbar and a hammer, broke the clock out of its moorings, and sent it down to the earth below. It was in anger over what was happening to his people, the Jews, in Poland. He spat on the clock, then shoved it out the hole in the tower -- Death to the Germans was his call. That night, as he slept, anti-Semites lit the fire around his home and he perished. Those who lit the fire were not mourned, but neither was Mr. Johnson.

Deloris Knopp, the druggist, was buried with her husband’s family near the new records house -- the old one being destroyed by the tornado of fifty-four that took Mr. Knopp’s life. The tornado only truly affected one resident of the grounds -- and that not until the early sixties. Mrs. Nora Roberts was accidentally placed into the family plot of the Allison family. The Allison’s were furious, and would have sued the funeral home if not for the fact that none of the Allison’s had yet been buried there. Martin Smith, the funeral director, immediately set about to make it right by calling Mr. Roberts and explaining the mistake and asking his permission to move the beloved body of his wife to a more... peaceful surrounding near the flower garden -- at no charge. Mr. Roberts agreed, but with some hesitancy. However, upon seeing the new spot near the garden, he immediately agreed and Mrs. Roberts was moved to her new home beside the Fostein’ family. Mr. Roberts moved away the next year. Martin Smith was buried with his wife’s family in the old corner by the Donaldson’s two years later.

Norman Listman was buried near the Grove family -- all who died before age fifty-two, except Christian Elizabeth Grove, who reached the magic age of fifty-three. She had donated the marigolds to the park that were planted, by Mr. Winters, in the very center. They survived the harsh weather for ten years before the aphids destroyed them. The park looked empty after that. Mr. Winters saw the open space as a possibility waiting to happen; he said the park needed a fountain in that spot where the children could play; as for himself, he had neither the time nor money to put into it; he was getting older, and his hands began to pain him more and more, making projects like this one harder and harder to finish -- repairing the glass on the clock had taken him two days longer than he had thought it should because of the pain: this he told the city council asking for a public fund to maintain the park and improve it as well. The council rejected the idea on the grounds that they didn’t have enough money, and a fountain was simply an accident waiting to happen. Only one man in the crowd took up the case: David Reynolds. He started a “fountain drive” at the schools and outside the grocers asking for “spare change to change the city.” The schools alone raised enough for the fountain, and the post-office and grocers donations were enough to purchase the insurance for it. Mr. Reynolds worked on the fountain, hiring people from the community -- youth -- to work, rather than hiring a contractor and crew: this was to be a community fountain, so use the community. Mr. Winters was there every day. He helped as much as he could -- sometimes holding a pipe, or a wire for the lighting, or simply encouraging the folks who participated. The day before the fountain was ready, Mr. Winters took ill and was rushed to the hospital in Safe Haven where he died the next morning. Everyone in Rock Grove mourned his passing, and the dedication of the fountain would have been postponed, but for Mr. Reynolds: he stood like a giant and told of Mr. Winters life work on the park and his support and love for his community. It was for this park Mr. Winters gave so much sweat and blood, and but for him, the community would never have been the same. He dedicated the fountain to Mr. Winters, and asked the city council to inscribe a plaque in his memory to be placed on the fountain. Mr. Reynolds died the next spring of complications to an appendectomy. He was buried as close to the fountain as he could while still remaining inside the cemetery.

It was only a few years later that the town officially ended: the mill closed down by regulations too strict to be met. People moved away to other towns, other cities, other counties, other states. With none to oversee the town, it fell into disrepair – the last family to remain died, and their bodies were buried twenty miles away where the rest of their family had chosen to reside. Everything was gone. A small company bought the land and began to re-work the ground -- the buildings were demolished: the high school giving way to a crop of corn; the fire station to wheat; the city hall to an orchard, and the forest encroached, year by year, on the cemetery until its roots entwined with the most noble men and women to ever walk her paths. Every building was laid low, and the park bore ivy and weeds where once flowers blossomed every spring, and the plaque on the fountain fell to the ground un-noticed.

The only man remaining who remembered the town park in all its glory and splendor died last May, and in his will he wished to be buried in the town of Rock Grove: but there were none who knew where it was kept. They searched into the hills and through the valleys, but none saw past the forest to where lay the noble remains of the town. Its memory vanished, and with it a time of peace, harmony and Mr. Winters.
This story is a reprint of a Creative Writing assignment from July 2003


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