Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ghosts in Vermont: A True Story

The last time I visited Vermont, I put a glass of little yellow daisies on my grandmother's grave. The glass was a big, thick Ronald McDonald glass I bought at garage sale along the road, for a nickel. It was all I could afford. We had just enough money to make it back to Florida, after a trip to Maine that turned out to be much more expensive than we had anticipated. My grandmother and I had a troubled relationship, and I could imagine her bitter sneer. I visit her grave once in 26 years and bring her wilted field daisies in a McDonald's glass. I tried to put a good spin on it, telling her I just wanted to remind her of when I was six and brought her dandelions sticking out of a milk bottle.

As we walked away from her grave, I looked up and saw an amoeba-shape made out of pure light floating so low in the sky it was well below the tree line. My mind immediately summoned up an image of Ruth Ketcham, an old lady who lived in Prunewhip when I was a little girl. I hadn't actually known her, and had forgotten her very existence for the past 20 years, so it was a surprise to see her so clearly now. She had had a long pointy chin that stuck out from her face like a shelf.

Two days later we went back to the cemetery. My husband wanted to make some rubbings of gravestones dating from the 1700s. I wandered over to my grandmother's grave. To my bewilderment, all the water had drained out of the big glass, which was now crazed into an intricate fissured web I had never seen except in a glass of water that was left outside one bitterly cold winter night. I could imagine nothing that would cause a glass to break in such a way, on this peaceful June weekend. I felt bereft. Was my grandmother still so angry, after all these years, that she pulled off a supernatural act of rejection? If Ruth Ketcham, who had been a tired old Baptist, was drifting through the air as pure light, anything was possible.

That was years ago. Now I think my grandmother was reassuring me about the after life, her and Ruth Ketcham.

After Visiting the Old Cemetery in North Bennington
I heard a woman say to her children,
"Be quiet! You'll wake the dead!"
New England has so many -
Revolutionary war soldiers under
crumbling headstones mottled with lichen,
marble lambs for babies who didn't
make it through the winter,
"Beloved Mothers,"
Old men who finally missed
the morning milking.
They deserve their long
unbroken sleep,
who fought such bitter winters,
got their crops planted and
harvested in such short summers,
never had much to do with.
I knew them,
I too was told not to wake them up.
(boots and corsets gone,
they drift among the buttercups)

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