A Solitary Child in the Woods

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You won’t find it in the guidebooks.  You probably won’t find it at all without sitting in a dusty room of a Historical Society and doing your homework.  Not many people know it exists.  I found it because I had a decades-old topographic map in my possession. And still, I found it by accident.  The symbol for cemetery was on the map.  But, even with that on my knee, it took me a long time to locate it.

You won’t find a more lonely grave than this one.

Well, maybe you could find something similar.  Take for instance the grave of Kitty Gray in Dartmoor.  I’ve written about her.  She’s buried at a crossroads because she was a suicide.  Not many places get lonelier…out there in the mists of the moors…but at least she rests at a cross-roads.  There are people who hike and drive by her grave everyday.

Not so with this particular gravesite, in the Adirondack forest where the trees have taken over what was once a hardscrabble farm.  The farmhouse is long gone.  No crops grow.  But a tragedy occurred in the old farmhouse, well over a century ago.  The details are sketchy.  The facts are hard to uncover.  But there is a name and dates on a lonely tombstone.  The birth and death dates tell you clearly that the person who rests here among the trees, the singing birds, the wind, snow, rain and ice…was a boy of eighteen months of age.  He has rested at this spot for 167 years.

The tiny clearing had the lingering aura of a holy place…a shrine.  People wrote about sick grandparents, pets that have died and asking for help with their own afflictions.

As I’ve said, the details are scant.  I don’t even recall how I learned the few facts.  There is a little box nailed to a tree just a few feet from the stone.  It could pass as a bird house.  But it has a door and if you open it, you will find a nylon pouch.  Inside the bag is a logbook.  People have signed the book and told how they knew about the existence of the grave.  Some entries read like it was a book of prayers and pleas to the little boy buried there.

The story, as I know it, is brief.  The boy was being given a bath in a tub in the kitchen of the farmhouse.  An accident with the boiling water…a boy was scalded.  He died.  He was buried in the field.  The family went west, disappearing into the heartland and from the pages of local history.

Maybe there’s more to the story.  If so, I haven’t been able to trace it.

The field is now second-growth forest.  The grave is hidden by the trees.  The boy is shrouded by the moss, lichen, leaves, pine needles and trees.

The moonlight may shed a dim glow on his stone.  The eternal stars may sparkle through the gaps in the treetops.  I stood over the tiny plot in the late afternoon.  The shadows were lengthening.  If I remained there, I would not fear the dark.  Rather I would find comfort in the solitude.  I thought of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  There are honor guards present to keep watch every minute of every day of every year.

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Farm Boy.  But he has no human to watch over him, only the trees, older than any Honor Guard of Arlington…unmarching…but still protective.  There is a name on the stone, but I think of him as a surrogate for all the unattended dead.

I do not or cannot believe that this grave (or others like it) are truly forgotten and deserted as it may seem.  Someone somewhere harbors a memory, a family legend, a family history, a diary, a clipping of who this child really was and how he came to rest in this particular spot of the Northern Forest.

And, even if no familial memory exists, a silent clearing amidst the trees and the little stone, tells its own story.

 

 

 

Alternate Endings II

Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates,

You just never know what you’re gonna get.

–Forrest Gump

ACT 1–Mary arrived in Chicago and settled in with her sister, Gladys.  Gladys had never married but she was often in the company of a girlfriend, Monica.  Very few men were present in the world of Gladys.  This began to trouble Mary.  Things like this just didn’t happen in small towns.

Small towns.  Mary’s thoughts often returned to the gentle landscape of the village by the river where she had lived her life so far.  The buildings along North Michigan Avenue became monolithic monsters to Mary.  There were too many people…and these people didn’t really know each other very well.  Gladys had many acquaintances, but no real friends, with the exception of Monica.

Mary thought about Ron.  She wondered how he had been getting on without her.  For a time, Mary thought about filing for divorce but now she was having second thoughts.

After six months of trying to find a quiet place in Chicago that resembled her hometown, Mary made the decision to go home.  Not only did she miss her friends and the simple shops along River Street, she also missed Ron.  What had she been thinking?  Why did she leave behind the young man who loved her since childhood?

Mary bought a one-way ticket for home.  Gladys was too busy chatting with Monica at the Union Station cafe to pay much notice to Mary.

They parted.  Mary’s sister would always be her sister, not her best friend.

Her best friend, she now understood, was Ron.

Ron stood on the platform of the Erie-Lackawanna station, clutching a recent telegram.  He looked to the west and heard a distant train whistle.

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ACT 2–Gary ate sand that June morning on the beach of Normandy.  He never thought of his own safety when he did what he thought should be done.  He never thought of his home or mother.  He didn’t have time to think about anything except to gain ground and help his comrades.

Tiny grains of sand were still lodged under his fingernails when they lowered his casket into the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery.

His mother clutched a medal.  It wasn’t a Purple Heart, it was Distinquished Service Cross.

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ACT 3–Mavis sat in the waiting room of St. Basil’s Hospital.  She could hear the beeping of the respirator.

Three months later, Mavis and the love of her life, strolled along a snowy avenue in a small New England Town.  She paused to drop an envelope into the post box.  It contained a check made out to Kerry’s Funeral Home.  The next morning, fresh flowers would be placed on her husband’s grave.

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