Thunderheads collected over Mt. Megunticook in the distance, blue sky fighting with a big black mass that grumbled continuously in the manner of a hungry stomach. Lightning flashed occasionally, weak and unfocused, as I walked the road to the Hope Cemetery.
I hadn’t come to the town of Hope to visit with its former residents; I’d just dropped Griffin at soccer practice and had 90 minutes to kill. At the Hope General Store (established in 1832), an ice-coffee display ($1.25) sat atop a beautiful old wood stove, and just behind it, a sign read, “U.S. Post Office, 04847.” Three wall clocks showed the time–in Hope, Maine, Hope, England, and Hope, Australia. On the counter was a copy of the town’s 2017 Annual Report and I flipped it open to page 43, a report from the town’s Cemetery Committee. “Cleaning and restoration of the stones is still a priority and the work is on-going,” it read. “You can definitely tell where we have left off as the white stones, when cleaned, certainly do shine!”
“Can you tell me where the cemetery is?” I asked the clerk. It was 5pm on Friday and she was busy selling beer and snacks to folks gearing up for the weekend.
“Left up the road a piece,” she said. “Can’t miss it.
“And how much is this?” I held up the report.
“Free,” she said. “Take it with you.”
I walked and read, skipping puddles and startling a deer (or maybe it startled me) that crashed off through the woods. The Hobbs and Fish Ponds Association reported on a dam restoration project up on Crabtree Road, and Hope’s volunteer Fire Department detailed their 49 calls in 2016, which included 2 stove fires, three wires down, and one flooded basement. On page 39, Hope’s dog catcher reminded residents that rabies is a real problem in Maine. “I have live traps available for borrowing if you find yourself in need of trapping a nuisance animal,” she offered. Hope’s Emergency Management Agency had only one message: WINTER STORM + EXTENDED POWER OUTAGES = WARMING SHELTER. I shivered, wondering where the shelter was in my neighborhood and hoping like hell we won’t need it.
At the cemetery, the marble stones did indeed gleam in the late afternoon light. I have always loved cemeteries, never feeling fear in one, but a warm appreciation of life. Thurston Metcalf read the headstone of a man who died a century and a half ago, in 1878, at the age of 81. What that tough old bird had seen in a lifetime of living in Hope, Maine I could barely imagine. “Job and Lois Pendleton” read another marker, a couple that lived into their 70s. Back then, this was quite an accomplishment. But on the side of the Pendleton stone, two names broke my heart.
Louisa: March 13th, 1842–Nov. 27th, 1854.
Fred: March 15th, 1853-Sept. 8, 1853.
This I could not imagine at all. Louisa, 12, and Fred, 6 months, dying a year apart, and Lois, their mother, living six more decades without them. It occurred to me then that this is why cemeteries remind me of life–how much more we have of it now, in a time when people have rabies vaccines and warm shelters when it storms. I browsed a while longer among the dead, so peaceful under the rumbling skies.
It began to rain as I walked back to the soccer field. I passed a blue Ford Falcon on the side of the road. I passed the Hope Spinnery, the Hatchet Mountain Publick House, and a building called Pinchbeck pipes (whether the kind you smoke or use for plumbing, I’m not sure). Finally, I passed the church of Hope, a small, whitewashed building with a spire that looked determined to poke a hole in the clouds. I felt God watching this little town then–or maybe it was simply Hope’s well cared for ghosts, what with the storm beginning to blow down from the mountain, the forest already turning red beneath it, and the shouts of the kids playing soccer, without a care in the world.