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A Grin at the End: Heroes – Reminders of the past

carl sampson

I live in a neighborhood populated by heroes. I’m not talking about Spandex-wearing, pumped-up guys and gals appearing soon at a multiplex near you.

I am talking about everyday heroes. The kind of people who pulled their weight in life and as a part of society. They raised families, worked at jobs. They offered a hand to those who needed it.

Their superpower was that they lived and loved with full hearts and open arms.

Now, having slipped the mortal coil, they share a neighborhood with me.

Nearly every day I walk through it, checking the markers and grave stones. Occasionally, new neighbors move in, escorted to their final resting place by family and friends.

They are all ages. Centenarians. Babies. They are rich, and they are penniless. All are welcome in this neighborhood, no questions asked.

More than a few friends have looked askance at me when I tell them about
my ritual.

“Isn’t that a bit – weird?” they have asked more than once.

“Not really,” I said. “I mean, once you get to know them…”

Take Eurastus Kidder (1824-1889). He was a veteran of both the Mexican War and the Civil War. How I’d love to sit down over a cup of coffee and listen to the stories he had to tell.

We often hear from news guys about how “uncertain” and “unprecedented” these times are. Those are comments born of ignorance. When Kidder was in the Army, the nation was on the verge of splitting in two; 620,000 Americans would die during the Civil War in the span of a few years. Uncertain? Unprecedented? Yes.

Then there’s Alma D. Markee (1894-1984). She just cracks me up every time I walk by. On her gravestone is this: “Death is a journey, and you know how I like to travel.” Oh, I bet she had a story or two to tell.

I am often reminded of the all-time great headstones of the past. “I told you I was sick” is one. Another is “Gone fishin’.”

I think mine would say something like “Jeez, if I’d have known I was going to end up here, I would have had more fun.” Hopefully, I have a little while longer to think about that.

Many of my neighbors are military veterans – something that’s close to my heart. Both of my parents were veterans – my dad was a 23-year veteran of the Air Force during World War II and Korea. My mom was in the Army (someone should have warned Hitler he didn’t have a chance with her on his case). And both of my wife’s parents were World War II veterans.

On certain holidays, flags sprout across the cemetery, marking the many veterans’ graves. It is a favorite sight.

The other morning, as I made my rounds, I saw a silhouette standing among the grave stones. He stood perfectly still, as if in prayer. I went out of my way to avoid bothering him. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but I knew it was important.

A half an hour later, I passed by the cemetery again. He was still there. He had not moved a muscle.

I went home and got ready to go to work. I drove by the cemetery, and he was gone.

All that remained were the heroes that populate that most precious ground.

Carl Sampson is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in Stayton.

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