Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Ides of March and Small Town USA

March 15 is also known as the Ides of March, and is the day that Julius Caesar of ancient Rome was murdered. It is a day that I wish that I could just stay under the covers since something always unexpected and unusual tends to happen on that day.

This week is Spring Break for many colleges and universities, including my own. This week we planned on visiting some elderly relatives in northeastern Pennsylvania and had set out on March 15 for the long drive. We were especially looking forward to seeing my husband's uncle, who is a decorated World War II veteran, and who was born on March 27, 1923. We had a trunkload of wrapped presents for him since he was turning 87 years later this month. He had lived alone in the town where he grew up for many, many years and was a tinkerer who took great pride in his nieces and nephews. He was one of nine children and lived next door to the house where he had been raised. At this advanced age he was still independent and enjoyed going out to eat and simple pleasures.

Prior to our departure from Amherst, Massachusetts, we had tried to reach him via phone but did not succeed and as we arrived at our destination we still had not gotten a response. A very uneasy feeling settled upon all of us and we contacted the local police department. The officer who responded to our call knew our relative and said that he would check up on him.

As we arrived at his house, our worse suspicions were confirmed. There were fire trucks and ambulances in front of his house, several volunteer firemen, the police chief, another officer, as well as some of the neighbors. We were told that it looked as though the inside screen door was latched and that mail had not been picked up since Saturday from the mailbox. The fire station is located across from his house, and is staffed by volunteers.

The authorities managed to open the house door as we were approaching and then we were informed of the devastating news. Our uncle was deceased on his bedroom floor. What was to have been a birthday celebration ended with us being there to watch his body being wheeled into the hearse. The night was cool and rainy but the support that we received from the police department and the fire department in this small town USA we will never, ever forget. They stood with us and comforted us for about 3 hours until the various inspectors came to shut off the gas, the electricity, etc., and the funeral director could be contacted. Plus, we were offered coffee and a place to warm up in the fire station. We were able to reminisce about our uncle and to exchange all sorts of wonderful stories about him.

My daughter felt as though we were characters in a movie but the life lessons learned on that evening on March 15, 2010, we will never forget. It seems as though our uncle waited for us to be able to come and to see him off. He survived two tours of duty in World War II and died in his home on the street where he grew up, in a town that seemed, to us, suspended in time.

We have already followed up with personal thank you letters. Sometimes one needs to take a long journey to find some of the best things about our country and its citizens.