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散文佳作108篇 第64期:A Visit with the Folks 探访故亲




A Visit with the Folks


periodically i go back to a churchyard cemetery on the side of an Appalachian hill in northernVirginia to call on family elders. it slows the juices down something marvelous.

弗吉尼亚北部阿巴拉契亚山脉的一个小山坡上, 有一处教堂墓地。每隔一段日子,我都要回到那里探望先辈们。这种 探访有一种奇妙的力量,能让人的心境归于平静。

they are all situated right behind an imposing brick church with a tall square brick bell-towerbest described as honest but not flossy. some of the family elders did construction repair workon that church and some of them, the real old timer, may even have helped build it ,but icounldn't swear to that because it's been there a long, long time.


The view, especially in early summer, is so pleasing that it’s a pity they can’t enjoy it. Wildroses blooming on fieldstone fences, fields white with daisies, that soft languorous air turningthe mountains pastel blue out toward the West.


The tombstones are not much to look at. Tombstones never are in my book, but they do helpin keeping track of the family and, unlike a family, they have the virtue of never chafing at you.


This is not to say they don’t talk after a fashion. Every time I pass Uncle Lewis’s I can hear itsay, “Come around to the barber shop, boy, and I’ll cut that hair.” Uncle Lewis was a barber. Heleft up here for a while and went to the city. Baltimore. But he came back after the end. Almostall of them came back finally, those that left, but most stayed right here all along.


Well, not right here in the churchyard, but out there over the fields, two, three, four milesaway. Grandmother was born just over that rolling field out there near the woods the year theCivil War ended, lived most of her life about three miles out the other way there near themountain, and has been right here near this old shade tree for the past 50 years.


We weren’t people who went very far. Uncle Harry, her second child, is right beside her. Acarpenter. He lived 87 years in these parts without ever complaining about not seeing Paris. Toget Uncle Harry to say anything, you have to ask for directions.


“Which way is the schoolhouse?” I ask, though not aloud of course.


“Up the road that way a right good piece,” he replies, still the master of indefinite navigationwhom I remember from my boyhood.


It’s good to call on Uncle Lewis, grandmother and Uncle Harry like this. It improves yourperspective to commune with people who are not alarmed about the condition of NATO orwhining about the flabbiness of the dollar.


The elders take the long view. Of course, you don’t want to indulge too extensively in thatlong a view, but it’s useful to absorb it in short doses. It corrects the blood pressure and putsthings in a more sensible light.


After a healthy dose of it, you realize that having your shins kicked in the subway is not thegravest insult to dignity ever suffered by common humanity.


Somewhere in the vicinity is my great-grandfather who used to live back there against themountain and make guns, but I could never find him. He was born out that way in 1817—JamesMonroe was President then—and I’d like to find him to commune a bit with somebody of bloodkin who was around when Andrew Jackson was in his heyday.


After Jackson and Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, he would probably not be very impressedabout much that goes on nowadays, and I would like to get a few resonances off histombstone, a cool frisson of contempt maybe for a great-grandchild who had missed all thereally perilous times.


Unfortunately, I am never able to find him, but there is Uncle Irvey, grandmother’s oldest boy.An unabashed Hoover Republican. “Eat all those string beans, boy,” I hear as I nod at histombstone.


And here is a surprise: Uncle Edgar. He has been here for years, but I have never bumped intohim before. I don’t dare disturb him, for he is an important man, the manager of the baseballteam, and his two pitchers, my Uncle Harold and my Cousin-in-law Howard, have both beenshelled on the mound and Uncle Edgar has to decide whether to ask the shortstop if he knowsanything about pitching.


My great-grandfather who made guns is again not to be found, but on the way out I pass thetombstone of another great-grandfather whose distinction was that he left an estate of$3.87. It is the first time I have passed this way since I learned of this, and I smile his way, butsomething says, “In the long run, boy, we all end up as rich as Rockefeller,” and I get into thecar and drive out onto the main road, gliding through fields white with daisies, past fencesperfumed with roses, and am rather more content with the world.


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