Maine’s countryside is a composer’s companion offering a plethora of possibilities, from the seductive nature of the small towns to the intriguing beauty among the piny to thick trees, to the rolling hills traversed by lakes, rivers and streams, all augmenting the natural appeal of the rural landscape.
In between all of that is the richness of everyday people, individuals bonded by a shared love of their surroundings and a desire to pass on to future generations all that this place called Maine has to offer.
Toss in a few shuddered mills – places where men and women toiled inside booming textile factories – and the aura of nostalgia penetrates the soul, even on a calm summer evening where one’s greatest challenge may be watching a beautiful sunset over one of Maine’s many lakes.
But among those things often forgotten – maybe it’s the nature of our own short attention spans – are the many cemeteries and graveyards that punctuate the Maine roadsides. These are the permanent repositories of our families and friends, barometers of how we treated them, not so much in life but also in death.
These cemeteries, many neatly manicured in rows of stone and granite, are like doorways to our pasts, reminders of those of our ancestors. They are the permanent incubators of a simpler time, mostly rock edifices that are the identification markers for someone most of us never knew. Only their names engraved in the tombstone or grave marker tells us who they were, when they lived, when they died.
In the town of Buckfield, a discussion about the city’s cemeteries and how they could be better maintained in the throes of diminishing revenues exposed emotions during a recent Select Board meeting. There was talk about how the town cannot afford to do basic upkeep of the tombstones and markers, including those on the graves of war veterans from Maine.
This, apparently, is how some have come to view the ultimate resting place. Where we an plow roads in winter for all of us to get to where we need to go, we have somehow lost the ability to care for the spot where all of us will one day end up, including the bravest among us.
Many people may not comprehend what constitutes a cemetery. Their knowledge bank may be Hollywood inspired, taken from any number of Hollywood blockbusters such as “Poltergeist.” The scene of Ebeneezer Scrooge staring at his own grave in “A Christmas Carol” tells all too well the fear so many have about their final resting place. It’s not a pretty picture.
Face it, cemeteries could use a publicist.
But what’s tragic about the picture of the Buckfield cemetery situation is the public itself seems to be asleep, not fully aware of what is happening before their very eyes.
During the Aug. 6 Selectmen’s meeting in Buckfield, the matter was front and center.
“It doesn’t say if it’s requested, it says you will do it for any veteran’s grave anywhere in any town, and they didn’t give the town any money to do this,” Town Manager Dana Lee said about the price tag. He explained the cost could be be between $20,000 and $25,000 to repair the stones on combat veterans’ graves, although it would also apply to those who served in the armed forces.
Lee, an Army veteran, put it all in perspective.
“Very few, if any, Maine towns can afford another unfunded mandate despite the underlying good the law seeks to accomplish.”
For the fair minded, that is at the very heart of the matter. Are we willing as small communities to allow just another bucolic element of our environment to slowly deteriorate out of a lack of capacity, concern and economic decisions?
When a small town cries for help, such as what’s happening in Buckfield and its seven cemeteries, state legislators, members of Congress and all public officials who can work a crowd for vote a have a moral imperative to listen for a change.
When a small town cries in its struggle to meet basic costs for saluting many of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, all soldiers and non-soldiers share a responsibility to come to their aid, without fanfare but out of a fundamental display of fair play.
When a small town cries for help just to place a rock over a piece of grass, we must all answer that cry.
Otherwise, the wailing and second guessing will soon be muted with anguish.
The Advertiser Democrat Editorial Board