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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

At That Time

Submitted by on September 12, 2010 – 1:58 AM18 Comments

I live close to Green-Wood Cemetery. I like it there, walking around in all the stories.

Long ago, the stories went right onto the headstones. One young man — I'll call him "Martin V.B. Thompson," though that isn't his name — met his end in the Brooklyn Navy Yard after getting caught in the machinery of a steamship. To make room for that grisly brief on his grave marker, his family abbreviated his first name: a story unto itself.

At that time, a Martin like this one lived in his quaintly punctuated street — in it, not on it as we do today — and prayed one of the strange, strong fevers of the day wouldn't carry off most of the people he knew. He had a dozen brothers as a child but only four as an adult, and they might have graduated from law school at the age of 17, gone on to patent obscure but critical improvements to the seltzer bottle, made a gazillion dollars, and founded an opera; or they might have died in shipwrecks. They might have done both. Candy factories exploded downtown and pressed the city under a boot of burnt sugar. Mosquito bites took Martin's uncle's leg and then killed him. His parents called the children after presidents and saints and forgotten skirmishes of the Revolution, and hoped these starchy names would form a protective barrier around them — one of them, at the least.

Anything could have taken him: a wet head, a loose tooth, a clogged flue. Apoplexy was not a metaphor at that time. He couldn't keep those he loved if the earth wanted them back, nor they him.

Those he loved laid Martin on a board in a back room, and washed him out of a tin pail, with a rough sponge. They bound him up to look whole and straight. They dressed him and rouged his face, and set him at a slight pitch, perhaps on some ice. People came and went, and a few of them felt faint; others ate chicken, because at that time, waiting went differently. Those he loved sat with him until the grave was ready.

The story on Martin's headstone, his world and its end, is stark and bloody, and gentle also. The fond and the horrible wouldn't seem to go together, but then that's how we find them, isn't it, at times.

Happy birthday, Don. (Can't spell "fond" without it.)

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18 Comments »

  • LizC says:

    I thought about Don and you this morning. From now on, I'll think about Martin's story along with yours.

  • Deanna says:

    We're fond of you too, Sars. All year long, but especially today. Take good care.

  • rayvyn2k says:

    So very glad to read your latest entry on this mostly somber, but also (for me) sometimes blessed day. Blessed that you and so many others lived.

    Happy Birthday, Don.

  • Bitts says:

    Happy birthday. Don.

  • tuliptoe says:

    Lovely piece. I always think of you on that day, at that time. @Deanna said it just right. We are extremely fond of you. Take good care.

  • Julia says:

    Happy birthday, Don.

  • mctwin says:

    Sars,

    You are gifted and a gift. Thank you. Happy birthday, Don, wherever you are. God bless.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Fondness is an underrated word in our loud society–too quiet, too pure. It sounds like an afternoon on a porch having a glass of something, rather than pounding Red Bull and pretending to be a killer on an XBox. It's a stream that's been pushed underground.

    But it's still there, and on days like yesterday, you can hear it. Happy Birthday, Don.

  • Maggie Badger says:

    It makes me strangely sad to think that Don is walking around out there somewhere, doing his thing and living his life, celebrating another birthday (hopefully) – and is completely unaware of how many people are looking for him. What would he say if he knew?

    And I'm praying for him to somehow find out that the woman with whom he stumbled out of the chaos, and her thousands of fans, all desperately want them to get in touch again.

    I know our movies don't all end happily but this one – you know, we could all really use a win here.

  • Amy says:

    Happy Birthday, Don, wherever you are. Though sometimes I wonder if you were just an Angel.

  • Linda says:

    Happy birthday, Don. And thanks.

  • Maria says:

    Awfully fond of you too, Sarah.

    Happy Birthday, Don. Whether you're an everyday man or an angel (I've started leaning that way), we all can't thank you enough.

  • Kim says:

    I too think of both Sarah and Don each year: two people I don't know at all but then again, I do. Happy birthday, Don, and thanks, Sars, for sharing him with us.

    (In the intervening years, I've come to believe that you were each other's "angels": each of you the person the other most desperately needed, walking the other out of the darkness. I'm not a believer in any supreme being, but every year Don renews my faith in my fellow human beings, who I suppose are the ones we can really count on, no?)

  • Sarah says:

    Happy birthday, Don.

    Every year I think it is too late for Don to be found but every year I hope he is so that he can come by and see all the thoughts and birthday wishes.

    Sars, thanks for writing this.

  • Jaybird says:

    I'm with Maria. I do believe in God, and I have met those whom the circumstances–especially the oddness thereof–led me to believe they were angels, or could be. I see no reason why Don couldn't be one.

    It would make him much, MUCH harder to track down, though.

  • Kate H says:

    Thank you, Sars. I'm grateful for this, every year.

    And happy birthday, Don.

  • Jill says:

    Sars, thank you for always saying something that isn't like anything anyone else would ever say.

    Happy birthday, Don, wherever you are.

  • frogprof says:

    Just remembered to check back here — 12 days belatedly — and I'm wiping the tears away because everyone else beat me to the punch and said what I'm not literate enough to say. But ditto to all of them. And I vote "angel" too.
    Happy [very belated] birthday, Don.

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