Monday, May 28, 2007

Visiting the Dead in Akron

Glendale was the first stop today, Akron's greatest and grandest cemetery. This place was hopping, cars flowing in and out. Lots of grave decorations providing color and solace.

I'm somewhat amazed I have relatives here. Not in these ornate miniature Temples for the Dead, however. My ancestors' plot for four is in the Masonic section. Grandpa was a Mason. None of his descendants belong to this organization, once so hugely popular and widespread. The mystery and secrets of Freemasonry attracted followers for centuries. Now the very idea of it seems so quaint, not to mention absurd.

After bestowing geraniums upon my grandfather, grandmother and two uncles, I drove in a little further and found the site of my great grandfather's grave.

Next stop, East Akron Cemetery, "Plots Available," says the sign at the gate. There are very few people visiting here. One forebear is planted here, a great-grandmother or aunt, perhaps? I am not as fluent with my ancestry as my parents are. I did find her grave and placed my last geranium there:

I decided to drive around Goodyear Heights to see if I could find the place I first called home in Akron. It was an apartment on Pondview Drive. My first real memories come from there. I recall sitting on the curb and playing with maple leaf seed pods. Train tracks ran along the bottom of the back yard. Definitely a neighborhood for young couples and people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

There are some pretty awful areas in the Heights -- especially on the western edge of the East Akron Cemetery. Here I found lots of boarded up houses interspersed with other crumbling wrecks that should be boarded up. These are the bits and pieces of Akron that nobody wants to acknowledge. Lots of children out on these shabby and depressing streets.

Finally, I took a spin down Hazel Street, to look for my grandparents old house. Not remembering the street address, I looked for the two distinctive trees in the front yard, but couldn't find the place. Further along, I found the site of a house I once lived in with some friends. We called it our vegetarian commune, with Phil the balladeer, Andy the photographer, Mary the librarian, and several cats. I was the resident performance artist. The whole place went up in flames one Fourth of July. I still have some smoke-stained artifacts from that event.

Memories can't be suppressed on Memorial Day. This is the day we're supposed to honor those who died in various wars. I don't see what is so honorable about dying in combat. Looking back on the wars this country has fought, the only ones that seem somewhat honorable to me are the War of Independence and the World War II. In retrospect, there may have been other less bloody ways to effect change. However, Memorial Day is a day to face up to the carnage of the past.

I grew up watching the ever-increasing body counts displayed on the nightly news. Iraq is deja vu all over again, fast approaching 3500 US soldiers dead and thousands more brutally injured. Over 100 US service people have committed suicide since this current war began, and nobody knows how many more suicide victims from the ranks of the returned veterans. I feel profoundly sorry for all these people -- those cut down before their prime and those who live on, physically and emotionally damaged.

Flags wave over the graves of all who served in the military. Maybe one day there will be flags for all those who served humanity in the ways of peace and negotiation.

There is a play by the brothers Capek, called The Insect Play. It cast a spell over me the first time I read it, and eventually I did create an opportunity to direct it. In the final scene, armies of red and yellow ants do endless battle with one another. There are no good guys or bad guys, just piles of corpses strewn around the ant hills, to be hauled away by the worker ants, while their leaders urge them on to greater glory.

Is war the way humans and other species rid themselves of extraneous young males? Is it driven by territorial instincts? Greed? Is war inevitable or is it something that can eventually be brought to extinction? I'd prefer to think the latter.

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