This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
An Excerpt from the novel At Founders Lake
The cemetery was alive with pennants. Blue and red bunting hung over the metal fence that fronted Central Avenue. Poles had been set up on a line along the side of the cemetery, at the edge of the old stone wall. From the top of each pole hung pennants from the regiments that the men of this town had served in, across two centuries of war. Small American flags, set in solid brass markers, stood in front of the gravestones of the veterans. They were scattered across every part of the cemetery, adorning small plain stones and grand family plots. The Daughters of the Revolution put the flags out the week before the Memorial Day service, placing a flag in each marker to commemorate the sacrifice and service the men had given their country. The flags, each the same, were the only time, in life and death, that these men would stand as equals. The cemetery itself was a testament to a town that had made some families prosperous and stable. Great pillars and mausoleums stood like immovable rocks, anchoring their family plots: Brightman, Churchill, Bailey, Cooper, Olsen, Ames. Their history wended through the cemetery lanes, where families crossed and split and crossed again, over the course of three hundred years. At the front of the cemetery, where the wide central lane sloped down through two rock walls and lead out onto Central Avenue, a wooden bleacher, three levels high, had been erected for the ceremonies later that afternoon. A tall, thin man walked slowly around the back of the bleacher, his shoulders stooped and his head turned up to the sky. Occasionally he would reach up to lean his full weight against a bearing pole and sway back and forth to test its strength against the load. A light wind picked up and the assorted pennants, buntings and flags began to stir quietly. The day, even at this early part of morning, had lost its spring wet, and was flattening and withering under the sun. Summer was coming early. The thin man finished his walk around the bleachers and lifted himself up to the center. A podium stood on the lowest rung, slightly askew. He straightened it, then straightened himself. For a moment, he stood still, his spine centered and strong, his hand brushing his sandy hair away from his wet brow, and looked out from the podium, across the street, to the town green on the other side. The ground was beaten bare in patches,
and wispy grass ran between the shrubs and small trees that dotted much of the green. Across from the green, separated from the cemetery by an old parking area, were two churches, centers of the town: St. Luke’s and St. Matthew’s. St. Luke’s was the Methodist Church, the oldest congregation in the village. The building was bright white, with a wide staircase leading to a plain, square façade broken by three double doors. The spire was the tallest structure in town, and the gold cross at the very top could be seen from miles away. St. Matthew’s housed the Catholic congregation. The squat brick building has been built four years before by an architect from Boston who was inspired by the Norman chapels of England. The domed roof appeared flat and heavy next to the airy Methodist spire. A man walked out of the Methodist Church, and set off toward the bleachers in the cemetery. “Win…Do you have a moment,” he called to the man as he lowered himself from the bleachers down onto the sidewalk. “Pastor Michaels,” the thin man said. “You’ll have the green tidied up by later this morning, won’t you?” the pastor asked. He clambered up the wall, pausing in mid-reach for a moment, as if uncertain that his strength could bear his own weight, and then stood by the podium, pointing across to the green. “I want it to look as well as it can, of course, for this afternoon.” “Just going down to the shed to get the mower, now.” “Good, good,” said the Pastor. “It’s going to be a really fine day. I’m excited for it.” The man nodded and walked back up the cemetery lane, to the faint rise that created a false horizon and hid the equipment shed nestled in the back of the cemetery. The bases of the cemetery stones were still dark from dew. He paused at a large monument. Winston Churchill was carved prominently across the base, supporting an obelisk shaded by two gnarled, broad oaks. The man stepped forward on the grass to a plain headstone set in the earth:
Winston Churchill III July 12, 1907 – February 19, 1942. His father. Central Avenue continued up past the churches and the cemetery along a ridge that turned gently to the east into the center of town. Fletcher’s stood just at the curve of the ridge, a little up and back from the road. The old restaurant was a meeting place of sorts for the town. At front was a long porch that looked down over the road. Beyond the porch, through two glass-paneled, grey doors, was an eating room with a half dozen plank tables and long benches. Twelve mismatched chairs hung on pegs on the back wall, by the door to the kitchen. These were for the comfort of old-timers, men who the proprietress, Peg Lacey, judged would be discomfited unnecessarily by the plain wood benches. The regulars were always careful to stay in Peg’s good graces, because the chair privileges could be suspended at any moment, for any length, by Peg’s curt nod. Peg served breakfast, lunch and dinner, opening before dawn and turning down the lights and retiring to the second floor at 8:30 every evening. She was a small, dark woman, with a reluctant smile and harried look. She had come down from Boston when her husband had inherited the restaurant from his father. They had worked the restaurant together for two years, painting the building, putting in new gas stoves and a glass cabinet for cigars and candy, when Tom Fletcher had died. Peg had gone away for a little while, and the building had stood silent, an empty marker at the entrance to town. Her return had been announced by a soft light in the second floor windows and a wispy curl of smoke from the chimney on a Spring evening. The next day, Fletcher’s was open and Peg had a new helper, a diffident man some years older than her who worked the stove and rarely interacted with the people at the front of the shop. This morning the doors were wide open and the soft breeze was brushing the cozy shop air. The tables were filled, and the busy clank of kitchenware could be heard above an uncharacteristic bubbling of voices. Two benches had been pulled away from the tables and set out in two
sides of a square; across from the benches, six chairs had been taken down from the pegs and arranged in a semi-circle. The topic of discussion was the Memorial Day commemoration at the cemetery later that morning. Paul Bannerman, the town doctor and mayor, sat in a tattered captain’s chair in the center of the semi-circle. Beside him sat Tom Canion, who ran the town lumberyard and hardware store, and Neil Brightman, a descendant of one of the original families to settle East Bridgewater. The three men sat and waited as a few stragglers came in off the porch and forced themselves onto the wooden benches. Bannerman pulled his chair forward and leaned into the circle. The gathering quieted. “The parade should reach the Cemetery at 11:30 and then we’ll allow 15 minutes for everyone to take their places. Father Wilson will say an opening prayer and then we’ll the presentation of colors from the V.F.W. Billy, how many do you expect in uniform this year,” Bannerman said. Bill Foley was a big man, with sloped shoulders and thick wrists that were indistinguishable from his forearms. He smiled. “Alive or dead, doctor? Tommy Farnam has it in his will that he should present the colors until his corpse has turned to dust.” “Who going to dig him up and hold him, Billy? He stank when he was alive. He’ll be real ripe by now.” Foley looked back the speaker. “He had a cold heart, Chickie. He’s probably still iced up, even after three months.” The man laughed. Bannerman cross his lips with his hand and teased out a small smile. Foley was close to the truth: the body of Tommy Farnam had been found frozen to the floor of his barn where he’d fallen from the hayloft, and it had taken five days of thawing to soften the body enough to be able to drain the fluids for embalming. Farnam’s wife had been in a horrible state for the first couple of days, but then had found a strange solace in sitting with the frozen corpse of her husband, holding his hand and chastising him for tumbling to his death in their barn. As Bannerman began to talk, Tom Canion lifted his voice. “Doctor, a couple of other folks are speaking today, right?” Canion asked.
“We’ll do our traditional ceremony, Tom, just like we always do,” Banner responded. “Pastor Michaels has asked to speak,” Brightman said. “And I’d like a short moment to make an announcement to everyone,” he added. Chickie Doyle wheezed. “I’ll leave Tommy Farnam out of the crew, Doctor,” Bill Foley said, smiling. He turned his shoulder against Canion’s raised hand. “We’ll be there at 11:30 with the colors and full uniform. Give us a couple of minutes so the ones that are marching, like me, can catch our breath, you know.” Canion interrupted. “We’ve got to let Pastor Michael’s say a few words and I don’t think that people will mind hearing what Neil has to say.” The statement sat in the air flatly. Canion had a way about him with his words: his simple statements carried great weight and left no room around them for easy discourse. This was a knack that lead to abrupt silences. Men who worked at his lumberyard often found themselves moving stock about the yard in an uneasy quiet initiated by a stray comment from Canion as he passed them on his way to the office. Dickie Doyle, who worked for Canion, appeared to be immune to his effects. He knocked his heels against the plank floor and looked down at his boot. “It’s a Memorial Day ceremony, Mr. Canion, and it’s meant to honor the men who served their country, sometimes giving their life, and that means it’s not an announcement time at the town hall or something like that. Leave it alone. This is something that this town gets right every year.” A few of the men chuckled. Dickie had come to East Bridgewater from the south, a migrant of happenstance drawn by his affection for Bill Foley and his love for Bill Foley’s sister, who rarely had any kind comments for the traditions of an old New England town. Like Foley, and many other men gather that morning at Fletcher’s, Doyle was a veteran; he honored men who had fought, mourned men who had lost their lives and respected the tradition of service that had defined so many of the families in the town. “It’s not your concern, really, is it, Doyle? We can let the elders of this town decided what is the best part of our tradition and what can be
changed,” Canion growled. “Sometimes plain sense can see the reason for a change.” “We don’t want to draw things out, Tom,” said Dr. Bannerman. “The boys will want to get off to the Little League games. Everyone is ready to knock off after the parade. The purpose is to honor all our Veterans and Bill’s post has organized all those folks. Fr. Wilson was an Army Chaplain, so it makes sense for him to say the benediction. If we want to shift things around, let’s do a little planning ahead for next year.” “Many of the Methodists aren’t comfortable with the Catholic priest saying the prayer, Thomas.” Brightman turned to face the older man to his left. He leaned back in his chair, one arm resting on the tattered upholstery. His face was broad at the forehead, hollow around the eyes and narrow at the chin; he smoothed his bushy mustache with the meat of his palm and sat forward. “Michaels has been here for four years now and has done a fine job of reviving the Methodist congregation. It would only be a sign of respect to the Methodists, and to all of their ancestors who have served, to have their pastor speak one or two words. I’ll talk to the Pastor myself and ask him to be brief. He’s a good man, Tom. There’s no reason not to let him lend his sentiments to the moment, is there?” The morning sun had slipped over the crest of the pine forest that ran out to the eastern edge of town, broken only by Founder’s Lake and the open fields of the old Bailey property, that had sat empty for the past decade. The sun was sudden and strong. It hurried in under the roof of Fletcher’s porch and burst onto the floor. Bannerman’s face was cast in sudden light. He appeared blank, thoughtful. After a moment, he looked across to the benches. “I’m looking forward to see your squad in uniform, Bill. It always makes me proud. You can start with the presentation of the colors after Father Wilson and Pastor Michaels make their comments. Remember to point away from the crowd. It doesn’t make any sense to put a scare into the women and young kids. “And Neil, if you’ve got something that you want to tell the town, maybe you can find some time at the start of the Little League opener. There’s probably more people there.”
Even as Bannerman lifted himself out of the chair, Peg’s helper was pulling it back toward the wall and Peg had walked out from the corner of the room. Bannerman opened the door and let in a broad wash of light. The brightness made the men fumble awkwardly as they stood. The benches scraped loudly against the floor, and the men stood idly for a moment. Canion stood next to Brightman and smiled broadly. “I thought he might put up a bit more of a fight, the old man,” he said. “He won’t be embarrassed in public light that. He likes to be in control. You were smart to bring it up here, with everyone around,” Brightman answered. “It was a good time. I don’t see why not.” He watched Peg’s slim body as she pushed at the heavy oak table. “She’s getting older, that one. See how her hips are getting soft?” Brightman shook his head. A man called to Brightman and Canion and moved laboriously across the room. “Carter, what’s up?” said Canion. Brightman nodded and waited silently. “I heard something interesting over in Brockton yesterday, thought you might be interested in it,” Carter began. He looked between Canion and Brightman, silent for a moment. He was a heavy man, broad across the shoulders and barrel-chested, who rest heavily on his broad feet. “I was going to visit the Ford dealer over there to see about some truck I ordered for the sandpit.” “How’s that interest us, Scott?” Canion asked. “The trucks shouldn’t. I’ve got two on order to replace the oldest ones in the yard. Tim Lawrence over at your bank gave me pretty good terms, Neil. I appreciate it, you know.” “I’m glad that worked out for you, Scott, but you know it’s not my bank.” “As good as your bank, that’s what we know Neil.” Carter said. He stood quiet for a second. “You run a good pit, Scott, everyone knows that. Best aggregate around, when we need it,” Canion said. “But, how’s that interest us.” “It wasn’t the trucks, I thought you’d find interesting, but what I heard there. There was a statey picking up a car out of service and he was talking to the guys there about a big project that was coming down from
Springfield. He’d been out with a bunch of surveyors the week before, watching them while they were going over the big roads around here. They’re going to build a big highway down from Boston to the shore, and the plan has it coming down this way. They’re saying four lanes, and it could run right through the pines and into Washington Avenue. It’s the most level land around, the statey was saying. You know the police are always in the know about these things.” “A highway?” Canion said. “Coming down South this way?” “The state’s been talking about the project for a long time,” Brightman said. “I suppose they’ve decided to fund it.” “It’s going to need a lot of fill and gravel, that’s for sure,” Carter said. “I’m feeling even better about paying for those two trucks.” The men walked toward the door. “You’ll need to get onto that supplier list to sell them anything,” Canion said to Carter. “You can help with that, can’t you, Neil?” Carter asked. Timmy Churchill, Junior Foley and Peter Cooper sat at the back of the schoolyard, inspecting their uniforms carefully for any sign of stains or scuffs. Cooper’s shoes were jet black; his mom had spit shined them in the kitchen that morning and had made him carry them in the car until she’d dropped him off at the school to wait for the parade. The three boys had all come early, just to sit and enjoy the morning. This was the first Memorial Day Parade they’d ever marched in. Timmy was feeling a little self-conscious. Debbie Kelleher, the new girl in his grade, was off at the edge of the schoolyard, gathering with the Central School Band. The CS Band was the second musical act, after the Glenwood Fire Department and before the Little League teams. Debbie played flute and would be in one of the first rows, most likely out of Timmy’s sight. He watched, hoping to catch sight of her now, but didn’t want her to see that his uniform was duller than the others and frayed around the seams. He snapped is glove against his knees. The glove was worn out just the right way: dust rubbed into the thumb and fingers, the palm glistening from the linseed oil he’d rubbed in night after night through the winter. “Got your eye on Debbie, Timmy?” asked Junior. “Gotten to talk with her yet?” “We had a reading group together and I said hi,” Timmy answered.
“She lives around the corner from you, Churchill,” Cooper said. “You must see her on the bus.” Timmy didn’t like talking about Debbie. He’d spent hours wandering in the woods at the edge of her new property. He hoped he’d bump into her, or catch sight of her, and maybe take her through the woods and the swamp and Widow Bailey’s park and show her some of the special places around the pond. Timmy imagined that she would be easy to talk to. “You’ve got the bus every morning,” groaned Junior. Timmy was quiet. Junior knew a lot about everything that was grown up, and for Timmy, trying to talk to a girl that you liked was definitely grown up. He had an idea that feeling embarrassed about yourself around a girl you liked was grown up too, but he didn’t know what grown ups did to make the feeling go away. Junior had two older brothers. His brother Denny was over in Vietnam. He’d come back one time on leave, and the things that Junior knew got more unbelievable. Other boys in uniform trickled into the school yard in ones and two. Soon the three boys were at the center of a loose crowd. Mr. Kennedy, their coach, stood off in the back entrance of the school, by the cafeteria, with the head of the Little League Commission and the other coaches. Timmy, Junior and Pete were lucky: they had landed on the same team, the Red Sox. Their sponsor was Canion Lumber. Mr. Canion had come to their first practice and handed out the jerseys and caps. He’d given them a talk about how they needed to be good representatives of Canion Lumber, that they were just little boys any more, but that they were part of something bigger. This morning, as the marchers in the parade gathered in the warm light, Timmy felt like Mr. Canion was right, and he was part of something that was bigger. It felt good, but scary. He didn’t want to let anyone down and he didn’t know for sure exactly what was expected of him. A small, smiling dark-haired woman called out to the band members from by the swing sets, where the asphalt of the playground crumbled into hard-packed dirt. This was Mrs. Davenport. She was the head of the music department at Central School. Timmy had heard she also taught health in fifth grade, and that part of the course was sex education. There was something free and happy about Mrs. Davenport, even though she lived alone. Maybe it was because her husband had died in Vietnam. This
was a few years ago, before she came to teach at the school, but Timmy imagined that knowing that you had lost your true love in war could help you feel more happy than sad. Junior made an air whistle and bumped knees with Timmy and Pete. “She’s something hot, huh?” he muttered. The band broke into two clear groups: the Central School band lining up behind the swings, with Mrs. Davenport at the front; the High School band marching along the side of the school to the front drive, where the start of the parade would gather behind the convertibles that would carry the important people in the town. Timmy could just catch a glimpse of Debbie. She was a few rows back, and smaller than the others. In the light he could tell that her blond hair had a hint of red, like the wild strawberries that ripened too quickly in the early summer, and that when eaten had a tangy and somehow satisfying taste. The day was starting warm and some of the children were beginning wilt in their wool marching uniforms, despite their excitement. Getting them into formation was the easiest task of all, Lindsey Davenport reflected. The challenging part was keeping them focused enough to play their three pieces on cue, while walking, through the gathered crowds, and still in their formation. The one accomplishment she focused on was having her band in one piece and at the reviewing stand on time. Her worst nightmare would be for the band and the Little League teams, who brought up the rear, all mixed together when they came to a halt at the cemetery. If that happened, she’d probably just march back to the Water Department trucks that marked the end of the parade, climb into the cab of one and watch from a safe, demeaning remove. The excited chatter from her band lifted her spirits. The uniforms might be too heavy, and the skills uneven, but the experience was priceless for each of them. They had grown up watching this parade for all their lives, imaging the day that they would get to march: in the band, in their Little League uniform, in their Cub Scout or Brownie uniform. The moment was an immersion and introduction into the history of the town. Lindsey had many parents tell her how important their first parade was, and could feel the pride and intensity that they had for their child’s experience. She might not be able to share the feeling – too much of her
background and her experience warned her that the cost of the life that the tradition led too could be higher and more painful than any person, never mind child, should have to bear – but she could respect the power that tradition had, and would do her best to help it be an exciting and memorable moment for the children. Clarence Moody was waving to her from the corner of the school, and she walked over to him across the playground. Clarence ran the high school band with a nervous intensity. He was nominally in charge of the entire town music program, and Lindsey as part of that, but he was absorbed with his own private panics that he had very little time for administering to the three town bands that spanned from the high school to the elementary school. Lindsey respected and appreciated him. He was the driving force behind a music program that had every third grader learning an instrument. And, he was so distracted by his own anxiety that he had very little energy to wonder about a young widow who had arrived alone in town from Hartford in response to an advertisement for a music teacher. “Do you have everything in hand, Mrs. Davenport?” he asked. “I believe so, Mr. Moody. Three songs….two Sousa marches and the Monkees tune,” she smiled. The older man was roughly her height, but three times her volume, with heavily rounded shoulders and a round, glistening forehead. His thin hair was matted down on his sweaty head, stray licks stuck to his temple. Sweat was gathering in the folds of his jowls. Lindsey could feel his discomfort and regretted that the day was beginning so warm. He wore a corduroy sports coat and grey slacks. “You’ll keep them together, I hope. At any rate, with that shirt, I don’t think they’ll be able to miss you.” Her blouse was deep purple, matching the colors of her band’s uniforms, and, in fact, the colors of all the town’s official organizations. Purple and white. She’d thought better of wearing the white slacks, opting instead for a sensible tan skirt that fell below her knees, and a pair of brown walking shoes. The First Lady of the United States may be able to get away with wearing slacks in public, she thought, but not a middle school music teacher who also teaches sex education. “How’s everything with the high school band? Are you all set?” she asked.
“Aside from losing my best brass player to the Army? And having the tuba player dent his horn when he dropped it from his tractor? What on earth could he be doing with a tuba on a tractor, that’s what I asked him. And this heat? We can’t finish the parade soon enough,” Moody responded in his practiced grumble. “They can’t handle the piccolos either, and I’m letting them do the Hogan’s Heroes tune against my better judgment, but they love it.” Moody was interrupted by the short whoop of a siren. This was the signal for the marchers to fall into formation. The parade was about to begin. The parade route was a semi-circle, from Central School, along Central Avenue to the fork at Main Street, down Main Street through the center of town, up Library Avenue and then back on Central Avenue, past the grand old houses in town, until the marchers reached Central Cemetery, past the reviewing stand and then into the old parking lot next to St. Matthew’s. The veterans marching in the parade then proceeded back to assemble before the reviewing stand for the presentation of colors and the benediction. The streets were lined with spectators. The townspeople came out early and staked their claims on small patches of grass with blankets and aluminum folding chairs. As the morning progressed, families poured into town, parking at the high school and walking the quarter-mile into town. Many families that had generations ago moved from the town, and who came back to pay their respects to their ancestors and the sacrifices they had made. All that day, one could find parents leading their children through the streets, pointing to the old houses and recalling old family legends, or browsing through the cemetery, to lay small bunches of flowers on rarely-tended graves. Tradition was at the core of the history of the town, and that tradition was most often one of violence, service and sacrifice. Neil Brightman was directly descended from Nathanial Brightman, who had fought against Prince Philip in the Indian Wars (sic) in the 1600s, and had lost his life on the shores of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. Dozens of other families has sent their young men off to war. The military tradition wasn’t one of heroism or leadership, although there were many stories of valor;
it was a tradition of service that harkened back to the first settlers who had slung a musket over their shoulder, left their farm, and walked off to settle a score. The people who came to celebrate Memorial Day were drawn by the gravity of the town’s service. By paying their respects, they were acknowledging the generosity of the constant commitment of these families to protect the values that had formed the country in anyway that they were asked. In its ritual, the town repaid their respect. Memorial Day was simple in its remembrance, in the way that the values that had been won, a way of life that was profound in its quiet liberation, were celebrated. The marching bands: the town pride: the Little League opening: the veterans: each were given a clear moment for display before everyone. All morning, cars had been streaming along the road into town. The police had set up a detour just below Central Avenue, and had to make a second parking area down by Carter’s Stoneyard. A nervous shiver seemed to course through people as they gathered, part excitement at the carnival feeling, part anticipation for the event to come. Paul Bannerman sat in the back of the deep purple Impala convertible that marked the beginning of the parade. Lisa had stayed home that morning ton tend to their young white mare who was about to foal. The onset of labor had been a relief to them both: Lisa did not enjoy the role of the mayor’s wife in the parade and Bannerman felt guilty and anxious at her quiet displeasure. Now he could wait patiently as the parade gathered, sit next to the Town Selectman and the Town Treasurer and gaze at the crowd as they watched the procession pass by. The convertible, a gift from Neil Brightman to the high school, was the first of five cards in the parade, followed directly by the hook & ladder from the fire department, festooned with bunting and the fire crew decked out in full gear. The high school bank followed – Clarence Moody would be in Bannerman’s office the next morning with painful blisters and an alarming shortness of breath – and then the veterans, in full uniform and be-medaled, marching as best they cool. They were followed by the Boy Scout Troop, and the Girl Scouts, and the majorettes, followed by the second band, made up of the loudest brass players from high school and middle school. The Knights of Columbus mounted a historical float each year, and then were followed by the
Central School Orchestra and the Little League teams, all ready for opening day. Win Churchill slipped into the front seat and looked back at Bannerman. “Ready, Doctor?” “Where are the others, Win,” Bannerman asked, looking around. “Picking them up at the road. They were too lazy to walk down. Or too busy, like they said,” Churchill chuckled as he turned the key. “Pretty packed up there,” he said. “Maybe the most people I remember ever seeing.” “This day means something to them, particularly now,” Bannerman said. “It’s like one of the holy days at the church, I think. They know what to expect, they see what to believe in and it helps them make sense of what they are seeing. It helps.” “You mean the war, right Doctor? It helps them understand the war.” “I think,” Bannerman said. He thought back to the conversation at Fletcher’s. “That is one reason we do this the same every year, Win. People can bring their own wants and needs and find the same words, the same pattern, and make their own sense out of what is going on. It’s never easy for people to see their children suffer, and that’s all they can imagine, watching the news every night.” Churchill nosed the car up the drive to the street. Dick Cooper and Larry LeMeur stood on the sidewalk, both dressed in light color suits and with straw boaters on their heads. Cooper raised his arm and held out a third boater, gesturing to Bannerman. “Not much has changed in this town for as long as I can remember, Doctor. I’m glad you think that’s a good thing.” “I do, Win.” As the two men clambered into the car, and all three of them sat on the edge of the back seat, the official start of the parade, Bannerman mused over the absence of change. It wasn’t wholly true, he thought. People had changed, circumstances had changed, fortune had shone bright on some and had tested others. The Bannerman and Churchill family histories had once tracked closely and since diverged: one stable, established, the other struck by grief and misfortune. Yet, he and Win
were each as much a part of the unchanging fabric of the town as the other. As the convertible eased out onto the main road, Bannerman chanced to look back over his shoulder, and in a glance the parade spread before him. Each person was captured in that moment before they burst forward, tense with formal energy. He saw the flat brick mass of the school and the bright shine of the fire engine. He saw faces suspended mid-way between a smile and a frown of concentration. He saw the ballplayers lifting their gloves, captured in mid-cheer. He saw the veterans standing with quiet satisfaction, their uniforms tight around their shoulders, bellies and thighs. Bannerman looked at the pretty face of Lindsey Davenport, the officious slant of Paul Kennedy, the proud smile of Chief Allen. Behind them, he could see the flat schoolyard, a line of blossoming dogwoods and the start of the pine forest, which ran east through swamps and spongy earth of the lake. The car lurched then, a momentary swoon, and the bank struck up a fierce noise, the engine siren sounded and people began to clap. The marchers burst into motion, like a field of corn whipped around by a random wind, and then leaned forward as if one. The parade had begun. Tom Canion sat alone in the third car, followed by the other officers of the Chamber of Commerce in a small group on foot. He sat in the back of the convertible driven by one of the men from the yard. Sitting up on the top of bench hurt his back. He also felt that he carried more authority. The president was sitting in the back, with his arm slung across the bench, that day in Dallas he was shot, Canion remembered seeing on the TV. Canion could see Bannerman’s thin back up ahead in the lead car. The older man was narrow, a bit like a weathered old pole. Canion couldn’t see Bannerman’s wife. She didn’t come to these events very often. His wife, Susan, was already waiting at the cemetery with her mother. The older woman couldn’t tolerate the hot sun and the slow pace of the parade, but was adamant about being at the ceremony. She was fiercely proud of Susan’s father, Thomas Singleton, who was killed in action in the Philippines in World War II, and relished the respect and honor accorded in his name to her during the day.
As the car moved slowly down Central Avenue, Canion looked out at the people gathered at the side of the road. At the beginning of the parade, he saw three men from the yard and their families sitting on a grassy mound a little back off the road. They waved to him cheerily. One of the men, Albert, stood with his arm around his wife. She was a slender woman, with small breasts that were cupped by the yellow blouse she wore. Her hips were firm and flat. Her name was Anna, Canion thought, as he gazed at her standing with her hand shielding her eyes from the sun. Her sleeve had fallen back from her arm and the skin below her shoulder was bare. Canion had run his hand along that skin one day, had felt her soft heat briefly, as he had guided her to the back of the yard to find her husband. She smiled out and waved to his passing car. Canion turned his head to watch her, wanting to hold her gaze. Children rang along the side of the road, yelling out and waving. Canion laughed as one small boy was pushed by another into the front of his car. The boy’s eyes were wide as baseballs and he shot back into the crowd as quickly as he could. The band behind him was playing loudly. He could hear the men behind him calling out to friends along side the road. There were more strange faces than familiar ones along the side of the road. They were passing through a section of small houses, and older couples sat on their porches out of the heat, but the sidewalks were filled with younger families, filled with energy and excited about the parade. Canion imagined that they came from some of the towns closer to Brockton. A industrial plant had opened there several years before, and created a few hundred jobs, attracting people down from Boston and up from Fall River in search of opportunity. One of the old dairy farms near the plant had sold off and a development of new homes had gone up. The city was benefiting from the influx of jobs and families, and Canion had heard rumors that ground was going to be broken on another plant somewhere nearby. Canion caught sight of a striking young woman, sitting on a blanket at the edge of the street, with her knees pulled up to her chin. Her legs were bare, the expanse of her thighs warm in the heat. She looked off to her side and her long brown hair fell across her face, obscuring her chin. Canion wondered what the back of her neck would feel like under his hand, and imagine standing behind her and weighing her breasts in his
hand. He smiled to himself and waved slowly, hoping to catch her attention and force her glance to him. The parade came to the intersection of Main Street and Library, where the cars and engines and marchers would loop back to Central Avenue and the cemetery. They were about a half through the parade. Canion thought about the houses that had gone up over by Brockton. His yard had picked up very little of the work; the lumber and materials had been supplied by an outfit over in Dedham. Canion had talked to Brightman about trying to attract some of the development to East Bridgewater and there had even been some discussion in the Town Council about how to get the builders to come look at the town. The discussions hadn’t gone anywhere though. Most of the land that was available for development backed into the swamps, and good land wasn’t available: Tom Wilson owned the biggest farm in town, out to the west of the lake, and ran a profitable dairy business on it. The conversations had been frustrating. The land all around the lake was broken into two parcels. The southwest side, a long ridge that fell sharply down to the shore and had dramatic lake views, was owned by the widow Bailey, Bill Foley’s sister. The property had once been a busy amusement park and summer colony. Now it stood in disuse. Canion had heard rumors that the widow was letting out small parcels to summer campers who had come down from Boston. The west side was owned by Tony Lepore, an Italian out of Boston who ran a restaurant and private casino out of a large white house that backed out onto the lake. Lepore lived with his wife and two sons in a smaller house up the shore. Some of Lepore’s staff, all men who came from other places, lived in the other two buildings on the property. Between the two large properties, and in a triangle that widened out from the lake, were smaller tracts that had been in families for generations. Men like Bill Foley had been born and raised in these old homes. In the end the discussions had petered out: not only was no land available, but the drive from East Bridgewater around the lake to the new plant took too long and no builders had any interest. Canion had no confidence that they town would have done what was necessary to attract the development, though. Bannerman talked a lot about protecting the feeling of the town and working to keep the land in the families that had
lived on it and worked it for generations. Many of the other council members followed Bannerman’s lead. Neil Brightman had been one advocate, but a quiet one. Brightman controlled much of the property in town, and any expansion would benefit him. When Canion had expanded the yard, he’d leased two lots next to his property from Brightman at double the income that the former properties on the lots had generated. Brightman was careful about taking sides, though. He benefited too greatly from the long standing relationships his bank had with the farmers and small businessmen in the town. When Canion had pushed Brightman to be more aggressive in his support, the man had explained that he didn’t want his best customers taking their business elsewhere because they believed he had a greater interest in their failure than their success. At any rate, Brightman had said, no one would live in East Bridgewater and work at the new plant. The drive was too long. The parade turned the corner back onto Central Avenue and passed under Fletcher’s. Canion looked up at the men standing on the front porch. They looked down at the procession as if they were at the top reaches of a stadium, leaning on the porch rail. Chickie Doyle was pointing down at the street, his mouth twisted into a smile and his eyes lit up. The other men laughed. Canion could feel that he was the butt of some fun. Behind Doyle, he could see Peg standing with her arms crossed. He felt warmly to the sharp woman. For a time, before her husband had died, Canion had talked her into a brief, passionless affair. He had enjoyed the feeling of the bones under the pressure of his hands and against his thighs when he pushed into her. She would respond, but with almost no feeling of presence. Soon after, she’d left. When he’d first seen her back in town, he had gone to the house late that night and knocked at the back door. The man had opened the door and told Canion that he wasn’t welcome. Peg had sat silent on a small bench by the door. After stopping in front of the cemetery to let Dr. Bannerman off, Churchill pulled the car into the lot next to St. Matthew’s. He walked to side entrance of the cemetery, at the back of the lot, where he waited in the shade to watch the marchers disband. He wanted to catch sight of Timmy before he went up to watch the ceremony. Timmy had been
uncommonly edgy that morning, excited for the opportunity to march in the parade, and anxious about the opening of the Little League season. Win thought about the rest of the day. Usually, he would have taken Fawn, Timmy and the baby to his father’s grave immediately after the ceremony, where they would have paid their respects and headed back home. Today, though, they would have to go straight over to the ball field for the opening ceremony. Timmy was in the first game. That meant getting back to the cemetery later in the afternoon, when he might run into his brothers and his mother paying their Memorial Day visit. The marchers were straggling into the parking lot, their loose organization loosing all structure as they set foot on the bumpy asphalt. Win had been suggesting its repair for some time to Father Wilson, as had Pastor Michaels, who thought that the crumbling asphalt and aggregate, speckled with weeds and moss, gave a tired and rundown feeling to the center of religious worship in town. Father Wilson didn’t seem to mind, and Win respected his quiet, consistent refusal to spend the parish’s money on a cosmetic repair. “We’ll patch it when wheels start popping, Win,” the priest had said. “Until then, we’ll use the money on things that are more rightly to the benefit of the people here.” Win had never conveyed the sentiment of the refusal to Pastor Michaels, half for fear the young minister would sneak into the lot and puncture some tires during Sunday’s service. The high school band played a final fanfare and turned into the lot. Through the trees, Churchill could hear the gathering sound of the crowd as they assembled in front of the bleachers. The town had been filled with people today, and Win thought that the Doctor was right about the parade being more important this year than some of the years before. It felt like the war had burst through onto the TV over the past year. The Battle of Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, images of men that looked like they lived up the road or the next town over, heads heavy under their bowl-shaped helmets, running with rifles in their hands and their shoulders slumped down over dirt roads flanked by big, wide-leafed trees. Nothing looked familiar, except the image of the soldier. Churchill cringed when he watched the men and imagined the noises that must be bombarding their senses. Sometime when he was little and his father had a enough to drink to soften him, but not so much that he was useless, Win had heard stories about the noise, the unnatural,
unrelenting noise that had been combat, that had left his father unclear about where he was, who he was and what he was supposed to do. The picture was imprinted on his childish memory, and now, when he watched the news reels, he lay over that early memory his understanding of the sound of wind, and helicopters and yelling, all colored by a fear of getting hurt and a fear of loss. Win sensed that it was time to move up toward the bleachers and he gave up his hunt for Timmy. Not only did he want to be present for the commemoration, but he was responsible for the bleachers, and ultimately the job of sparing the town notables from the embarrassment of tumbling slow-motion in an unseemly pile on the still-moist spring ground in their summer finest. He had no shortage of confidence in his work in building the bleacher – he was sensible and focused on the little parts of his job – but at least he could attempt to ward off the usual jostling and overcrowding of the small wood steps. He walked through the back of the cemetery, along an old deer path, and positioned himself on a small rise under an old elm, its leaves already spread full in the warm spring and providing a cooling shade. From this spot, Win was able to see the bleachers, the podium, and the people gathered on Central Avenue for the event. The unseasonable warmth of the day had taken its toll on people: collars were open an extra button, hair plastered to foreheads, shirts catching on sweaty arms and shoulders. He could feel the quiet of the afternoon setting in, and he began to look forward to sitting at Timmy’s game, and later walking through the graveyard as the evening breeze cooled off the shine of the afternoon. He’d like a beer, and hoped his wife packed one or two in the cooler she was preparing when he left the house early that morning. His spirits lifted as the sharp rat-a-tat-tat of a snare drum cracked the air. From the side of the bleachers marched a small company of military men, led by Bill Foley wearing his full-dress green army uniform. The men stood tall and proud, and as they marched, the flags snapped to life in a quick breeze, and the mid-day sun seemed to alter their appearance, transforming them from late life into strong, young men, filled with pride and expectation. Foley’s medals ran down his chest like a ribbon and on his hip his cavalry saber jangled. The unit halted before the black granite memorial that flanked the flagpole bearing the American flag. Foley called out in a deep, timeless
voice, “Company, halt! About face! Present arms.” And the men came to rest, their guns hold out from their chests, their faces straight and stern. Father Wilson stepped forward to the podium and traced the sign of the cross in the air. “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Sprit, amen.” A stillness settled over the gathering. Children looked up with slack faces, men and women bowed their chins to their chest. Churchill watched the priest as he stood stolidly at the podium. A trickle of sweat ran down his temple and his cheeks were flush with heat. His meaty hands grasped the rough wood of the lectern. “Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray. We are gathered together in the memory of the brave men who answered the call to serve their country. They went in trust of you, Lord Jesus Christ, to be vigilant and dutiful in serving your cause. They went to protect their families, their friends and the very country that they were young citizens of. For those that gave their lives in that cause, dear father, we ask your blessing. For those who were blessed to return to the bosom of their home and family, dear Father, we give you thanks.” The priest looked up at the people gathered before him. “Today, Lord, we are gathered not only to remember those who have served in the past, but to recognize the loyalty and sacrifice of our young people who serve today. They are not here, Lord, but they are present in our thoughts and our memories. Please protect them, Father, and bring them back to their homes in full mind, spirit and body to serve you, our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Churchill looked out at the people gathered in the street. Many were familiar, families from town, but many were not. Churchill was struck by the number of men wearing some bit of military clothing: a fatigue shirt, or a standard-issue grey T, or a green cap, or army boots, or green jungle pants, or dog tags. Somehow, the stray scraps of clothing seemed careless, or aggressive in some way, not a form of recognition and acknowledgement. The priest raised his hands up. Churchill’s gaze was fixed on one man who stood at the very edge of the crowd, by the fence on top of the old stone wall. He was tall, with sandy hair and a long, lined face dusted by the fair grizzle of his whiskers.
He wore a faded green t-shirt over jeans and pinned at the center of his chest was a military medal. Yet what captured Churchill’s attention were the young man’s grey eyes – they were locked fiercely on the priest, tethered like a wire cable strung from a telephone pole. The priest lowered his hands, bowed his head and intoned, “Amen.” At the moment, the squad of soldiers shifted and raised their guns as if to fire. They paused in mid-motion, and Churchill saw Pastor Michaels gesturing to them as he clambered down from his position and scuttled to the podium. Churchill’s heart sank. Pastor Michaels was a good man, filled with enthusiasm, but Churchill had too often seen how his impatience and shrill tone could confuse people and make them uneasy. He watched as the two priests talked briefly and then Father Wilson nodded and stepped away. Pastor Michaels stepped forward. “Brethren, let us pray in the memory of the men and women who have given some portion of their life in service to their country. The Lord recognizes their sacrifice and loves them for it; they will be ever glorious in the Lord’s name.” The slight breeze had dropped as the sun reached its mid-day height. Some of the children, chastened by the delay of the rifle salute, began to shift in their places; their parents shushed them and looked up to the podium, where the Pastor gathered himself, standing straight, his arms clasped across his chest. “This is a new and changing moment for us in our life with the Lord, my brothers and sisters. Our country is waging a great battle, not only in distant countries, but here in our own homes. We have seen confusion and pain, the unhappy deaths of great men who preached the gospel of human dignity and equality. Forces are at work that make us question where we are going and who each of us will be.” Churchill looked at the men gathered on the bleachers. Dr. Bannerman had his chin down, his eyes shaded by his forehead, the wispy hair of his forelock resting on the crest of his head like a leaf blown to the ground in a fall storm. Churchill thought he sensed a kind of resignation in the slump of his shoulders and the way his hands were clasped motionless at his waist, not in prayer, but in waiting, almost. Neil Brightman stood next to Bannerman looking out fixedly over the crowd, his lips turned in a slight smile, the corners of his eyes narrowed in an
almost hungry way. One or two of the others appeared to be listening all of a sudden, as if they had heard something that surprised and interested them. Tom Canion, at the far end of the bleachers, was staring directly in Churchill’s direction. He had the look of a bird dog trying to fix the range and distance of a scent. Past the podium, Foley had quietly signaled to the men to lower their rifles. The group was out of sequence now, some with their gun butts resting on the ground, others holding their weapons out in half-presentation. “The apostle Paul once said to the Corinthians, when they were confused in the face of change and had lost faith in the laws they had learned, Paul said, ‘For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness.’’ This is a time of darkness that surrounds us, brothers and sisters, and as Paul said, we must use earthen vessels to show how the power of God can be manifested in our god-like flesh.” The Pastor unfolded his arms and held his hands high over his head, palms facing outward. “Look! Look all around you, brothers and sisters. The Lord is asking us to overcome the darkness and despair that is encroaching our community of souls. How do we do this, we ask? Look around you, the Lord says, and let not the fear of change decay and destroy the beauty of your souls. I tell you, we must accept this challenge that the Lord has given us. We must accept this challenge to honor the memory of all those who have given us their life to create our life. We must accept this challenge from our Lord in order to give purpose and meaning for those men and women both here in our own country and in places distant and strange who are fighting for every kind of freedom. So look, brothers and sisters, and ask the Lord for guidance. The people gathered before the podium were still now, Churchill saw. The pastor’s voice had gained strength and was now bursting through the air. “My pastoral mission is to help us interpret the guidance from our Lord, my friends. Today, I want to share with you the vision of my church: Salvation through Brotherhood and Acceptance of Change. Through Our Lord’s grace, I am privileged to live among you and work to bring this pastoral mission to life. Today, I can bring you more than my hope…I can show you that path with the same clearness that Moses was able to take his people to the shore of the Red Sea….
“My promise to you, brothers and sisters, is to create a place where we can all gather in harmony and joy, to take part in the pleasure of community regardless of our creed. It is the same spirit that has driven this community since its inception, the same spirit that has driven the design of each original settlement within hundreds of miles. The town green. Our town green. Look behind you at it and remember. For we will, together, and with the support of St. Luke’s and our generous benefactor, rejuvenate and rebuild our town green. Tomorrow we will begin construction on a new gazebo for concerts, a new playground for children, a new community center for dramatics and performances, a garden for begetting life and pleasure…a new and vital center of our town. A place for us all to come together and embrace the change that Our Lord has blessed our lives with.” The pastor’s voice began to quake and he stopped for a moment. Churchill could see smiles on the faces of the people below the podium; some were gesturing back to the green and whispering to their companions excitedly. He wondered now why Michaels had been so insistent on grooming the beaten patch – his announcement would have had even more import with the green looking overgrown and ragged. Nothing, though, could have had as much impact as the look of many of the men on the bleachers, who were casting glances back and forth and talking with the same immersed excitement as the townspeople. Except for Brightman, Churchill noted, who stood with the same steady, expectant stance as he had for the entire sermon. Pastor Michaels leaned back from the podium and turned his face up to the sky. “Thank you, Lord, for your great gifts, and for your inspiration of our great benefactor.” He looked down to the people on the street. “Who, you ask? Only one of our finest citizens. Neil Brightman has so generously offered to help fund the improvements on the green. As he said to me, ‘Our town needs unification, Pastor, and this ground is the place to do it.’” The pastor turned and gestured to Brightman to join him at the podium. Brightman leaned forward, restrained slightly by the pressure of Bannerman’s hand on his wrist, and then stopped, one foot suspended in mid-air below the bottom seat of the bleachers. Churchill thought he
looked delicate, like one of the angels captured in flight on the old stone grave markers. The crowd, sensing the movement, but not clear of the sequence, began to clap and cheer, as much to bring the moment to a close as to celebrate the gift of one of the town’s richest and most tenured families. Michaels was pulled back by the applause and turned fully toward the podium, grasping it with both of his hands. “May god bless you all. Our town, our people, our future.” With the final word, Foley swung his rifle to his shoulder and fired a single shot. The crack lingered in the air, calling out to its mates to follow, and the squad shouldered their weapons and on the quick snap of a snare drum, fired off a volley. Seconds passed and another volley crackled, a violent, short rolling, like the rumbling of an claptrap truck on a rock road. One after the other, the volleys were fired. Smoke lingered in the air. The children put their fingers in their ears. The men became silent and stern, their eyes following the line of the rifles up to the huge American flag that hung slack from the pinnacle of the pole. The women half-closed their eyes and lowered their heads. On the twelfth volley, the men lowered their rifles, clasped them in both hands with a loud smack, and brought them butt first to the grass at their feet. The service was over. The soldiers became men again, walking gingerly in clothing too tight and warm for the early summer day. Churchill leaned back against the tree and looked at the crowd as it broke apart. He would go out through the other side of the cemetery and cut back behind the school to the ball field. If he was quick, he would get there before most of the other people and save a good place for his wife and daughter and he to sit and watch the game. Something stopped him though. Tom Canion had walked a little way along the bleacher toward Churchill. He was looking along the line of the street, toward the fence where the tall young man with the medal had been standing. Churchill looked again at where the young man stood. He was turned away now, and bending down slightly, his arm around the shoulder of a young woman. Churchill watched the couple. The young woman was beautiful in some way he could not put words to. She was short, with a full, round body. Her breasts and hips burst against the fabric of her clothing, and she held one arm across her middle and the other at her waist, as if she were standing naked and meant to cover herself up. She turned back to look at the cemetery, in response to
something the young man said. Churchill saw her face full on. Her hair was rich and black, parted along both sides of her face, framing deep brown eyes that seemed fixed in a luminous stare. The cleft in her lips was deep and pronounced. Canion had stopped and turned away. Churchill assumed he had been watching the young woman, who had turned to walk down the street with her young man. He shook his head and set off through the graveyard. The games were set to start soon, he wanted to enjoy his afternoon and then he would have to talk with Pastor Michaels to see what his plan was and what kind of extra work the priest might have for Win Churchill. It could be a good summer, he thought.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.