Tomorrow is Flag Day and on this day in 1967 my brother Charlie was laid to rest in Hillside Cemetery in Metuchen, New Jersey. He had been killed in Vietnam and was buried with military honors in a sad but patriotic ceremony, a ceremony that honored the sacrifice Lincoln called “the last, full measure of devotion.”
But Hillside Cemetery, before that day, had been part of my history. I was at one point dating a young woman, Cookie Kirwan, who lived on Main St. in Metuchen and when I would go home rather late at night, without a car, I had a choice: I could walk down Main St. to Woodbridge Ave., turn right at the post office, pass the train station and walk all the way down to Upland Ave. Or I could cut through Hillside Cemetery, cross the Lehigh Valley train tracks, cross over Amboy Ave. and cut off a lot of real estate in getting to Upland Ave. So I did the latter. But I didn’t walk through the cemetery because I knew there were spirits there and that some of those spirits might want to scare the crap out of me. So I ran through the cemetery at top speed, which really wasn’t very speedy as some of you might recall, ran across the tracks and did not stop until I got to Amboy Ave. Only then did I feel safe. And never once did I look back!
After Charlie was buried there, I went to visit his grave and as my paternal grandmother was also buried there I thought I would visit her grave as well, although I never liked her all that much. She was rather stern and unkind to my mother even after my mother and father had been married for decades. But I couldn’t find her grave and when I got home I told my mother about it and she said: “Oh, Peter, she’s buried in the Protestant section of the cemetery.” I was - and still am - amazed. The Protestant section? WTF is that about? You mean Catholics and Protestants can’t properly be buried near one another? Is there an African American section in that cemetery? Could blacks even be buried there? I don’t know but apparently anything is possible. Good thing my father converted to Catholicism or otherwise, I guess, he couldn’t’ be buried next to my mother!
Time goes on and while it doesn’t fully heal our wounds or completely displace our traumas, it sure changes how we respond to them. Metuchen and Hillside Cemetery will live in my memories until I can no longer remember things, for reasons both good and bad, both happy and sad. So it goes.