Porche: Memorial Day
Among the lilacs, tag sales and black flies, Memorial Day in Vermont invites us to ponder mortality, sacrifice, and the passage of time. “Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you have,” Benjamin Franklin once declared, meaning, how do the living honor their dead? On Decoration Day, at the start of the twentieth century, Vermont schoolgirls adorned the graves with lady slippers. In her hundredth year, Elsie Crowninshield told me, “Lady slippers grew everywhere in the pinewoods. We gathered them in canning jars. Went to the church for a program, sang hymns. And placed the jars with flowers and water on the gravestones. They weren’t curious then. They were plentiful, and everyone thought they were wonderful.” When Elsie heard her wildflowers were endangered in 1993, she wept.
1993 was the year I joined the Guilford Cemetery Commission to complete the term of Ron Squires, my dear neighbor and Vermont’s first openly gay State Legislator, who had died of an AIDS. Every spring, before Memorial Day, we place fresh American flags on the graves of veterans. From the Revolution to Vietnam and beyond, there are well over 300 vets buried here. Rumor has it that our flags are imported from China. Apparently, their price is right. Overlooking this irony and the flimsy attachment of flag to dowel, we set them in with reverence and gratitude.
Now in our seventies, we five Commissioners see our own history and future in these simple plots. At the Blanchard Cemetery, the deceased share a tranquil hilltop with a low-profile solar array. A decade ago, when dairy cows left the high pasture, multiflora rose took over. Blanchard Hill Solar removed the invasives without pesticides. Soon their project will reduce the carbon footprint of Sugarbush, the ski resort in Warren. Under Vermont net-metering regulations, electric customers can receive utility bill credits for generating power through small-scale renewable energy systems, even miles away.
Landscaping will obscure the black shine in time. And sheep may keep the vegetation down among the solar panels. I’d like to see the flock crossing centuries to graze among our fine slate stones: the peaceful coexistence of old and new above a precarious curve on the Guilford Center Road.]