[Entertaining as the Vader persona is, there are some things it just doesn't work for. So I'm going to step out of character for this post. However, the reasons I am obligated to post as Vader still apply, so names and some details have been changed. The rest is true.]
I took the family to visit some old friends today.
Bruce Brazier was my Cubmaster when I was growing up. He was also the public relations director for a local tech company. A born showman, he would occasionally entertain us by firing off a live volcano at Pack Meeting. It was a paper mache volcano, and instead of lava, it erupted burning ammonium dichromate, and we thought it was great fun. I thought my family might enjoy meeting him today. He passed away just a few years ago.
Richard and Evelyn Levee were the very sweet older couple who lived across the street from the house where I grew up. They were older than most of the parents in the neighborhood, and their daughter was sometimes my babysitter. She liked to eat and watch TV and let us alone as long as we didn’t cause any trouble for her. I sometimes wish my government worked more like her. An enthusiastic gardener, Mrs. Levee (this was a non-Mormon town) once gave me a very young willow tree to plant after she found me staring in fascination at the ivy growing on her house, trying to figure out how it held on so tight. I was five years old. The willow tree eventually got so big that it had to be removed before it cracked the foundation of our house. The Levees passed away almost twenty years ago, one right after the other.
Arthur Mattheson was a little younger than me. His father was a convert to the Church and a seventy, back when we still had seventy at the stake level. Arthur’s older brother dated my sister once or twice, and she may have even briefly had a crush on him. His younger sister eventually married one of the finest men I knew at college. Arthur drifted a bit, and he was not very active in the Church when he died quite suddenly of a stroke many years ago. He was in his thirties. By one of those astonishing coincidences, my ward had the assignment at the regional hospital where they brought him to see if the damage could somehow be repaired. I participated in the blessing before the surgery, and the Spirit would not let us bless him to survive. His mother was deeply grateful to us anyway.
Papa Seth was a World War II veteran who had been a guest of the Reich for the last few months of the war. He and Mama Seth looked after us when my parents went back to the old country for my grandmother’s funeral. My father had already passed away when it came time for me to be ordained to my current priesthood office, but at least I got to have Papa Seth in my priesthood line, as he ordained the man who ordained me. He died just a few years ago after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, a more ruthless enemy even than the Germans. They buried him a few feet away from Arthur.
Cindy Clark graduated from high school with me. I did not know her well. Judging from what was written on her gravestone, she lived long enough to become a wife, but not a mother. I don’t know anything else about the circumstances.
Darrell Byrnes was the owner and operator of the local radio station, and he was a natural-born radio announcer, with a voice that could have made serious money doing voiceovers on either coast. I do not know why he chose our little town instead. I did not know him well, either, but my father spent some time with him and his family as a priesthood leader. I understand my father’s ministrations were not entirely fruitless. Brother Byrnes also passed away many years ago, and in addition to his grave, they put a nice memorial with a bronze plaque with his name in the town square.
I didn’t know Baby Baker at all well. None of us did. She has only one date on her gravestone. There are a lot of gravestones like that in the children’s section of the cemetery. My family have learned to let me be alone when I visit there. This year I thought about Adam, and Betsy Pearl.
M son wanted to know why we were visiting a bunch of dead people. I thought about Russell Kirk and what he wrote about the mystical community of souls: Those who have gone before, those now living, and those yet to be born. Kirk was a philosophical conservative, perhaps the preeminent philosophical conservative of the second half of the 20th century, and though he wasn’t a Mormon, what he wrote is consonant with our temple theology. My boy is too teenaged to explain all that to, and I didn’t really try, leaving it for him to find his own meaning in the day. He had a bouquet of flowers to place on the grave of any veteran we found without flowers or a flag, and I suspect he was anxious to be rid of them.
My daughter aspires to be a writer. I asked her if she had ever read Spoon River Anthology. She had not. What do they teach kids in high school nowadays? Hopefully not derivative tales about sparkly vampires, though in fairness all tales are derivative. There is only one Great Story, told in a thousand variations in as many human cultures, and she will learn this eventually. Perhaps today helped.