A Visit with the Folks
periodically i go back to a churchyard cemetery on the side of an Appalachian hill in northern Virginia to call on family elders. it slows the juices down something marvelous.
弗吉尼亚北部阿巴拉契亚山脉的一个小山坡上， 有一处教堂墓地。每隔一段日子，我都要回到那里探望先辈们。这种 探访有一种奇妙的力量，能让人的心境归于平静。
they are all situated right behind an imposing brick church with a tall square brick bell-tower best described as honest but not flossy. some of the family elders did construction repair work on that church and some of them, the real old timer, may even have helped build it ,but i counldn't swear to that because it's been there a long, long time.
The view, especially in early summer, is so pleasing that it’s a pity they can’t enjoy it. Wild roses blooming on fieldstone fences, fields white with daisies, that soft languorous air turning the mountains pastel blue out toward the West.
The tombstones are not much to look at. Tombstones never are in my book, but they do help in keeping track of the family and, unlike a family, they have the virtue of never chafing at you.
This is not to say they don’t talk after a fashion. Every time I pass Uncle Lewis’s I can hear it say, “Come around to the barber shop, boy, and I’ll cut that hair.” Uncle Lewis was a barber. He left up here for a while and went to the city. Baltimore. But he came back after the end. Almost all of them came back finally, those that left, but most stayed right here all along.
Well, not right here in the churchyard, but out there over the fields, two, three, four miles away. Grandmother was born just over that rolling field out there near the woods the year the Civil War ended, lived most of her life about three miles out the other way there near the mountain, and has been right here near this old shade tree for the past 50 years.
We weren’t people who went very far. Uncle Harry, her second child, is right beside her. A carpenter. He lived 87 years in these parts without ever complaining about not seeing Paris. To get Uncle Harry to say anything, you have to ask for directions.
“Which way is the schoolhouse?” I ask, though not aloud of course.
“Up the road that way a right good piece,” he replies, still the master of indefinite navigation whom I remember from my boyhood.
It’s good to call on Uncle Lewis, grandmother and Uncle Harry like this. It improves your perspective to commune with people who are not alarmed about the condition of NATO or whining about the flabbiness of the dollar.
The elders take the long view. Of course, you don’t want to indulge too extensively in that long a view, but it’s useful to absorb it in short doses. It corrects the blood pressure and puts things in a more sensible light.
After a healthy dose of it, you realize that having your shins kicked in the subway is not the gravest insult to dignity ever suffered by common humanity.
Somewhere in the vicinity is my great-grandfather who used to live back there against the mountain and make guns, but I could never find him. He was born out that way in 1817—James Monroe was President then—and I’d like to find him to commune a bit with somebody of blood kin who was around when Andrew Jackson was in his heyday.
After Jackson and Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, he would probably not be very impressed about much that goes on nowadays, and I would like to get a few resonances off his tombstone, a cool frisson of contempt maybe for a great-grandchild who had missed all the really perilous times.
Unfortunately, I am never able to find him, but there is Uncle Irvey, grandmother’s oldest boy. An unabashed Hoover Republican. “Eat all those string beans, boy,” I hear as I nod at his tombstone.
And here is a surprise: Uncle Edgar. He has been here for years, but I have never bumped into him before. I don’t dare disturb him, for he is an important man, the manager of the baseball team, and his two pitchers, my Uncle Harold and my Cousin-in-law Howard, have both been shelled on the mound and Uncle Edgar has to decide whether to ask the shortstop if he knows anything about pitching.
My great-grandfather who made guns is again not to be found, but on the way out I pass the tombstone of another great-grandfather whose distinction was that he left an estate of $3.87. It is the first time I have passed this way since I learned of this, and I smile his way, but something says, “In the long run, boy, we all end up as rich as Rockefeller,” and I get into the car and drive out onto the main road, gliding through fields white with daisies, past fences perfumed with roses, and am rather more content with the world.