Never met a Stranger: Visiting graves


By T.W. Burger

On those rare occasions that I visit the small town where I was born, I find myself visiting graves, particularly those of my mother and father.

Their resting places, to use the mildly poetic term, nestle into the side of a ridge looking down to a sweet little river called Shenango. The word means “Pretty One” in the language of the local natives. My parents used to swim in and boat on it. Dad fished it, and mom gathered watercress there.

The reasons I go there are complicated.

As much as I would like to think of mom and dad looking down over that peaceful place, I do not. They are not there in any sense. A cemetery resembles an auto scrap yard, full of busted, abandoned machinery, the organic equivalents of gears and pulleys, rusted chrome, faded glory.

What I get when I go there is what I pack in with me. They lie there static in their narrow boats; I come as the froth on the tide, ever-changing.

I come to reassemble my memories of them and hold those up to the mirror of who I am at that moment, still managing to be surprised that what I see is different and new. Each time I am easier on them, harder on myself, for not seeing certain truths earlier; that their errors came from the simple truth that they had no idea how to raise children, as their own parents had not; that they were fallible more than anything else.

I write this without rancor. It is the way of things, a crapshoot. The dice are loaded, and the table is uneven, the gods of fortune drunk and disorderly. We have been baptized in the errors, miscues, and abuses that came before.

As I sit on the headstone of another relative, I ponder that it is amazing that every soul that awakes on this rock spinning a tarantella around this sun is anything other than a new edition of Alfred E. Neuman or Adolph Hitler.

And yet, an astounding number of us rise from all this wreckage to be artists, poets, authors, great statespersons, teachers…. despite ferocious odds to the contrary.

It is probable that in the teeming masses of ordinary people on this scarred world there are new heroes in larval form awaiting to be born as the rest of us shuffle toward Armageddon.

I hope they hurry.

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

He has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a freelance writer and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

He is the author of "The Year of the Moon Goose" is currently writing “Never Met a Stranger.”

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