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The View from Mary's Farm

Mary's Farm for February 2012

February 18, 2012

Hello all, from the heart of the nonwinter, 2012
We're setting records for bare ground and mild temperatures here. No one knows what to make of it. It's not unpleasant but there is that feeling, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's suddenly not quite so important to keep the woodboxes filled and the driveway cleared. I suppose that imparts laziness. But, so be it. Our vigilance is down but our sense of foreboding is up. New Englanders don't take kindly to having things too comfy. We always feel there is going to be a payback down the line. We'll see. For the time being, it's 7 a.m., the temperature is a mild 30 degrees, heading up to the forties, the weather folks tell us, and the sun is streaming in like late March. I hope you are warm and comfy, wherever you are. Here's my offering for this month:

Waking the Dead

When I was growing up, a funeral was considered a somber event, one too gruesome to allow children to attend. As a result, I was not allowed to attend the funerals of my grandparents nor my great aunts and uncles. Maybe this was a good thing, I don’t know, but I do know that for the past several years, I have attended the most wonderful, entertaining and heartwarming memorial services I ever could imagine.
One old auctioneer who lived in these parts threw two “funerals” for himself before he passed on. He didn’t want to miss the party, he said. He also prepared for the event by painting his town’s church (white) so that everything looked good for that inevitable event. I missed his service but I bet it was a good one. A service I attended on a bleak day in February last year took place in a bar because the dearly departed had spent most of his time there. There was guitar music, jollity, and plenty to drink, as hoped. But most of these events take place in churches, which have blessedly lifted the bar on allowing fun in the sanctuary. Most still include readings from the Bible, a few hymns, soothing words from the minister but there is a lot more that goes on now.
A few years ago, to celebrate the life of one Floppy (nee Florence) Tolman, who lived past 100 (some say she was 104 but no one seems to agree, one of the risks of not being honest about your age), the town band oompahed, thumped and tweeted from the balcony of the church, as everyone knew how much she loved to hear the band. At another, also in February, we celebrated the life of a quirky lady who had made her living in the world of fashion. In cleaning out her house, her heirs discovered a vast trove of expensive perfumes. In a generous gesture that had more than one purpose, they devoted an entire table to these fragrances, new and old, so that any mourners could help themselves, which we all did, lingering over our choices. Again, a recent celebration of a dear friend who loved to contra dance, included a performance by one of the great contra dance callers (he himself no spring chicken) who walked to the front of the church, carrying his accordion, alongside a fiddler. Together they took seats in the choir pews and began to play a reel, calling it as if the dance were taking place right then and there. We, packed into the pews like sardines, could only clap and stomp our feet to the beat. The dance, we all knew, was not for us but for our friend in heaven.
What comes in between all these blessedly inspired elements are the stories. Everyone has stories to tell and we laugh and cry and learn a lot more about this person than we thought we ever knew. Recently, the lives of a couple who were devoted to each other throughout their lives came to an end. After an uplifting service that included a jazz band and lots of stories, their ashes were packed into a small cannon, usually reserved for celebrating the Fourth of July, and shot in a fiery blast toward their beloved Tolman Pond. We all screamed and laughed and blew kisses to them in departure. This is a lot closer to what the Irish would call a wake, which I believe is meant to wake the dead, in case they were only sleeping. I wonder what my grandparents would have thought.

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Selected Works

Articles
In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
My Articles
Libraries occupy a special place in the heart of a town. Evening events at the library give a strong sense of community and make it seem like a great place to live. And in the wake of the online revolution small town libraries have found a way to not only survive but to be indispensable.
In December 2008 an epic ice storm left virtually the entire state of New Hampshire without power. The residual effects of that storm paralyzed the Monadnock Region almost through Christmas. A first person account.
In 1994, sixteen-year-old Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. After several treatments, he ran away to avoid chemotherapy. What happened after that may have been a miracle.
Roxanne Quimby once lived primitively in the Maine woods. Today she owns 90,000 acres of those woods, and her goal is to create a national park to preserve the landscape forever. So why do so many people wish she'd just go away?
Multi-million dollar border stations are rising along our line between US and Canada. What was once the "friendliest border" has become deadly serious.
Renowned short story writer, Andre Dubus, reflects on the accident that cost him his legs.
A trip to Poland discovers a beloved family friend
An elegy for the master of the short story.
Fall comes to The County
Thousands seek healing from this innocent, comatose child.
A complete listing of articles published since 1978
Fiction
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief