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Doyle: Remembering Rose

This spring, a developer tore down my grandmother’s house in Lyndonville to make way for a gas station. Technically, it wasn’t my grandmother’s house; she died a number of years ago and the house had been sold a couple of times since then. Throughout the years, however, I continued to think of it as my grandmother’s house. Across the street from the Bag Balm factory and down the block from the bookstore my family ran for almost 30 years, it was where we celebrated my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, the house that both of them died in.

I get it. The only constant is change itself. The 19th century’s Waldorf Astoria makes way for the 20th century’s Empire State Building. Lyndonville Fruit and Grocery is replaced by a Subway sandwich shop. But this change really stung.

My grandmother was a remarkable woman. She was born on the 4th of July. She never went to college, but was quick and resourceful in a way, no offense, baby boomers are not. And she was tough. For one thing, she was married to my grandfather for over 50 years. She raised four kids that turned out all right. On the gold mine road in Sutton Vermont, she stared down a black bear after crossing paths with its cubs. Once she offered the Irish poet Seamus Heaney a cup of tea, and he asked if she hadn’t anything stronger. She did. They drank whiskey. It was ten in the morning.

After my grandfather died, she lived alone in that house. She played bridge with friends, but one by one they died. She took longer walks. The town named the stretch of road down by the water treatment plant after her. Rose Lane. She worked mornings at the bookstore with my mom. She went to church, but then she stopped.

My grandmother told me the hardest thing about getting old, and she made it to 92, was that everyone she knew when she was young was dead. I’m 38. Too young to be nervous, but old enough to have an idea what she was talking about. Even now, the people and places I knew as a kid seem to be slipping away.

My grandmother’s house wasn’t the only one the developer tore down. My high school English teacher’s old home was also plowed under to make way for the new gas station. When I was 16, he made me read Hamlet. I resisted. I didn’t see the point of reading something so old. So irrelevant. But some of it stuck with me. A line from Ophelia: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.”

In November, my wife Angela gave birth to our daughter. We named her Rosemary, after my grandmother. This 4th of July, when our extended family gathers to celebrate the holiday and play in the 8th annual Rosemary Secord Memorial wiffle ball tournament, little Rosie will be there. And we will remember.

Ben Doyle is a Community and Economic Development Specialist for USDA Rural Development. A former English teacher and arts administrator, Ben lives in Montpelier with his wife, Angela, and two children, Salvador and Rosemary.
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