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Good morning, Hank; it's Friday. I got up around 8:00, went downstairs to pick up the
camera, and then the Yeti and I drove east, past the kind of endless corn fields that
could make one wonder whether corn monoculture might one day lead to a zombie apocalypse,
and then we arrived in Knightstown, Indiana. We were there to help two Swedish architects
purchase a tree, which I realize sounds like code for a drug deal or high-stakes international
diplomacy, but... yeah, that's the fascinating life of the museum curator's husband.
Anyway, I got bored after a while and decided to walk across the street to the huge Knightstown
cemetery. I love cemeteries; for one thing, they contain a lot of names, which is very
helpful for a writer. Hannah J. Leisure; and Fred and Blonda Stickler; and Minnie Hooker;
and Mary McFall; and Ephraim Confare; and Walter Manlove; and Waitsell Cary, the founder
of Knightstown. I also love cemeteries because they contain so many stories you get to imagine:
The union dead, the first marriage of Knightstown.
And the more you look, the more narratives you find coming out of tombstones. There are
the straightforward ones like the sadness of losing a child, the amazingness of being
married for 61 years; but also the complicated ones like... wait, who was the dude in that
61-year marriage? Valva or Mona? Where they Knightstown's first single-sex marriage? Probably
not, but I hope so! And while we're on the topic of stories that get weirder the more
you think about them, what's the deal with Walter Manlove's wife?
Knightstown is a small place, and like a lot of towns in the Midwest, it's shrinking. I
drove over to the downtown, with its '57 Chevys and old-fashioned ice cream joints and ducks
wearing headscarves, Red's Hot Tanning and a closed bookstore and a place called "Bittersweet
Memories," where I bought this for Henry's room because it seems to me like literally
the best advice you can give a child... and also an adult.
It's easy to feel nostalgic in Knightstown, with its paint-chipped gazebo and "I don't
believe in ghosts but that mansion is definitely haunted"-mansions, but Knightstown has a present
and a future as well as its past, which is something that people tend to forget about
small towns in America. Someday, that little girl will decide if she wants to be part of
this town's future, or if she wants to indulge in the great American pastime of lighting
out for the territories. But we don't yet know what she'll decide, or what it'll mean
for Knightstown.
Thinking about that made me think about Walter Manlove's wife, Gussie. She was 28 when her
husband died, and I could imagine her picking out that headstone, committing right then
and there to being buried next to her husband. But she didn't yet know her future, Hank.
Maybe she survived to 113 and outlived the century she'd committed herself to. Maybe
she forgot to pay for the plot next to him. Or, more likely, maybe she had a life that
the 28-year-old widow couldn't have imagined. Maybe she married someone else and built a
life, and although haunted by her unkept promise, chose to be buried with her new spouse.
Hank, I think that's why, in the end, all we can really do is be kind to each other.
We don't know what's ahead – for us, or for our places. After all, Hank, nothing is
etched in stone... well, until it is.
I'll see you on Monday.
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Thoughts from Places: Small Town America

1238 Folder Collection
rex published on August 14, 2013
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