photo by richard flanagan

GRAVESIDE

Finally finished reading McCullough’s  “Truman.”  I’m very glad to have learned so much of this man–and so sorry that so many have no idea what he accomplished or what he was like. McCullough has done a great service.

This vignette near the end of the book struck me, because I had a similar experience in Maine one early spring many years ago: The Presbyterian minister, who lived across the street from Truman, was at a gravesite, he and I alone with the long-forgotten deceased except for two cemetery workers off to the side, smoking and doing a little foot-warming dance. He was about to begin the Service nevertheless when the now-familiar big green Chrysler pulled up.  Two Secret Service men jumped out, opened the doors, and took their positions. One offered an arm.  Refused politely. Out stepped Harry S Truman.  The minister asked him why he was there on that windy, cold day. Truman said, “I never forget a friend.”  He was in his eighties at the time.

As I say, I had the same experience when I was a boy minister in Danforth, Maine—well HST didn’t show up.  But damn it was cold and the wind was howling.  I think it was the first burial of spring (In most places up there the deceased are put in vaults in the winter because the earth is frozen solid and cannot be opened until the spring thaw). There were no mourners.  Two diggers just a few yards away were smoking, nipping from a paper bag, doing that same ritual “Jaysus ain’t it cold” dance.  I called to them, “Hey, guys, there’s a human being here who deserves our respect.  Come join us.”  They shuffled over the still crusty snow and stood with heads bowed perhaps more against the wind than out of respect. But it would do. I didn’t linger over the Methodist  Service  but I didn’t skip anything.  One of the men crossed himself after my Benediction. Imagine a big green Chrysler come crunching up that frozen, rutted road.

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