July 3, 2011
As I write this sentence, one thousand are going
and one thousand are coming.
- Anne Sexton
My mind has been shaken and stirred. This is always how I feel when I get back from Long Island, where I was born and where my parents' families lived. I tried to distract myself from the abyss of sorrow for those long dead, by making a pilgrimage to see Walt Whitman's birthplace, but we arrived too late. I peeked through the slits in the fence and saw the house, however and it seemed lovely. There enclosed by a six foot high fence was the only peace you could find in Huntington, where both Walt Whitman and my father were born. Afterward, my mother and I ate at the Ocean Crest diner where my parents went while they were dating. I had a turkey burger, which was surprisingly good. My mother had something called a vanilla egg creme which tasted like a vanilla soda shake.
Before this, we went to see my grandparents' grave. They are buried in the cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York with my grandmother's family. (Rood, weird word, looked it up; it means a large crucifix). My grandmother's name wasn't written on the stone; I found this very disconcerting, especially since this was something she had complained of, the fact that she was often overlooked as a child, being a shy child in a family of nine. Someone had dropped the ball on that one, but at least we saw it and can now do something about it. It was also depressing to see that their final resting place was not a resting place at all, with the constant flow of traffic and trucks and buses belching out their filth. A sad place to put bodies, even if they are soulless.
The next day was the wedding and yet a new crop of feelings for this now middle aged observer. My mother's cousin's kids had grown up. Being one of the older grandchildren of the Calabrese brood, I never knew them really, only saw them as rug rats running through the halls of my great uncle's house. But I saw the child faces inside the adult faces. Did I feel old? Not old, but hidden. I grew up watching the older folks, the ones now buried 20 miles away and 6 feet under in the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. So I watched as the revelers raised and lowered the bride, pumped their fists, sweated, laughed, and danced until they were breathless. I said things to them the older folks said to me like, I knew you when you were knee high to a grasshopper. Then, it got especially confusing. They hired a man to sing Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet songs. These were the songs of the dead people. These were the songs those bodies in the grave used to sway to, used to swoon over. I looked up at the tower of flowers above my head and thought, well this is dumb; these people have no connection to these songs. The people that do, aren't here. So why sing them?
My mother and I took a ferry across the sound and then drove the long road home. We processed are observations. I realized then it was good I went, because she would have been all alone with these feelings, and that would have made everything much worse. Because when thousands are rushing in and thousands are rushing out, as Anne Sexton says, and you are caught in the middle, in limbo, part of neither generation, you need someone to talk to.