Whenever I visit one of the old rural cemeteries in the vicinity of Brant Lake I reflect on life. Perhaps this is a paradoxical statement but I will explain: The occasional pickup truck drives past the headstones of the Old West Church Cemetery with barely a nod. Who wishes to linger with those who have died? But as I wander among the stones I fantasize about the lives of those who are buried in this cemetery on Knapp Hill Road and, for a brief period, I become a visitor in time, standing in the present, dwelling in the past. I am in the company of the Thurstons, Charles Fish, the Kipps, and Resolved Sherman. Each stone has a story to tell and my imagination roams wherever it desires, unhampered by reality as I create my own histories.
For instance, Resolved Sherman is a fine Puritan name. Did his family embark from England by ship in the era of the Mayflower? Landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts, they may have lived in the midst of a cranberry bog until they moved inland from the ocean and settled near the Old West Church. That church, incidentally, boasted two front doors adjacent to one another. Why two? To accommodate the crowds? Hardly. The Methodist community was small in number. So, why did the minister, who also ran the local sawmill, build a church with two front doors? Well, men entered through one door, women through the other. Resolved Sherman and his wife separated at the entryway, then came back together once inside. I picture them nodding to each other as if to say, “In a moment, dear, we will be back together.” Of course, at the end of their days, one tombstone marked a husband and wife together for eternity. Death does not discriminate.
Then there is the stone of Charles Fish who lived to the full age of 84. Was this the Fish who founded the pharmacy on Main Street, Chestertown, the only pharmacy in the neighborhood of Brant Lake? I remember the pharmacy for its old-fashioned soda fountain. Wearing a beige apron with faded sunflowers, Mrs. Fish, a descendant, made my chocolate cream soda. Her husband, black pants held up by suspenders, a white shirt rolled up to the sleeves, shuffled over to the soda fountain after mixing a potion for rheumatism.
Deeper in the cemetery, Arthur, the son of Shadrach and Phoebe, is recorded as having drowned on December 19 in the 1840’s. That headstone marks the years of his life as 19, months 11, and days 19. Such precise statistics, with each day recorded, leaves a message that life is too brief and every moment granted to us is precious.
For several moments I stood silently at the Old West Church Cemetery where the faint letters on the stones resurrected the lives of those who had once flourished, whose stories could be read between the lines; those who would never die as long as they are remembered.