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Speak, Memory

There was a touching essay by Roger Angell in the latest issue of The New Yorker (sub required). Angell’s wife died last year, and his daughter also recently passed away:

What the dead don’t know piles up, though we don’t notice it at first. They don’t know how we’re getting along without them, of course, dealing with the hours and days that now accrue so quickly, and, unless they divined this somehow in advance, they don’t know that we don’t want this inexorable onslaught of breakfasts and phone calls and going to the bank, all this stepping along, because we don’t want anything extraneous to get in the way of what we feel about them or the ways we want to hold them in mind. But they’re in a hurry, too, or so it seems. Because nothing is happening with them, they are flying away, over that wall, while we are still chained and handcuffed to the weather and the iPhone, to the hurricane and the election and to the couple that’s recently moved in downstairs, in Apartment 2-S, with a young daughter and a new baby girl, and we’re flying off in the opposite direction at a million miles an hour.

Angell is 92. His wife is buried next to his mother and step-father in Maine:

My decision to have my gravestone put in at the same time as Carol’s, in early August—it only lacks the final numbers—wasn’t easy, but has turned out to be comforting, not creepy. Brooklin is much too far away just now—I live in New York—but the notion that before long my familiar June trip back there will be for good is only keeping a promise.

Last summer, Angell visited his wife’s grave each day, along with his dog, Andy:

On our way home, I sometimes stopped in the oldest part of the cemetery, closest to the road, and left the dog in the car while I walked among the graves there. These are marble or granite headstones, for the most part, but all are worn to an almost identical whiteness. Some of the lettering has been blackened by lichen, and some washed almost to invisibility. These aren’t old graves, as New England cemeteries are measured—there’s nothing before 1800, I believe—but their stories are familiar. Many small stones are in remembrance of infants or children who died at an early age, often three or four in the same family; there are also names of young men or old captains lost at sea. There’s a low gray column bearing lowercase lines of verse in memory of a beloved wife who died in 1822, at the age of twenty-seven. Many of the names—Freethey, Eaton, Bridges, Allen—are still well represented in Brooklin today. What I noticed most, though—the same idea came over me every time—was that time had utterly taken away the histories and attachments and emotions that had once closely wrapped around these dead, leaving nothing but their families and names and dates. It was almost as if they were waiting to be born.

[Photo Via: A Voyage to Nowhereland]

Categories:  1: Featured  Arts and Culture  Roger Angell  Writers

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