December 20, 2005
I love cemeteries. I’ve loved them since the day in first grade when I walked down an alley toward what I thought was a circus tent and found people standing among low stones that had pretty words carved on them — At Rest, Asleep, Our Baby, Beloved. At my grandmother’s burial when I was eleven I was more interested in the stone that had a picture of a child in her First Communion outfit hung above her name than I was in what was happening at the Dwyer family plot.
I took the picture at left in the end of July, at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Massachusetts, near the town of Northampton. I’d gone to the area to attend the annual meeting of the Emily Dickinson International Society in Amherst. Lynn calls this event “Emily Dickinson Camp.” I describe it as “three days of peace, love, and academic papers.” It’s held at various venues worldwide, but returns to Amherst, Emily Dickinson’s lifelong home, every three years.
I thought about not going in 2005. The 2003 conference in Philadelphia had been disappointing (I didn’t make the trip to Hawaii for 2004), and I knew I’d be stretched emotionally and financially with the trip to Wyoming in June and the annual immersion in the world of fiction in Vermont in August. But the theme, papers, and presentations on Emily Dickinson’s family appealed to me, and a lot of the friends I’ve made through ED activities would be there, so I made the commitment.
I couldn’t get a room at either of my usual spots, neither the Amherst Motel in Hadley nor the University Lodge, near the cemetery, in Amherst. I found an online listing for the Scottish Inn, only five miles away in Hatfield. Its low price was attractive, so I made the reservation.
The online picture of the Scottish Inn, taken on a sunny day and possibly electronically snazzed up, showed a long low strip motel surrounded by green fields. It turned out to be the saddest, sorriest little motel I’d ever stayed in. The indoor-outdoor carpet was thicker and more luxurious than the towels, little rectangles of raggedy terry cloth that looked and felt like a preschooler’s binky that’s been in service since infancy. The light was dingy, the air conditioner noisy. And it was in the middle of nowhere, more like nine miles from Amherst than five.
Getting to Amherst wasn’t hard, but coming back I kept missing the turn at the Hatfield side of the bridge and choosing either a road that circled around the town of Northampton, bringing me back to the bridge, or the route that took me past Saint Mary’s Cemetery. By Saturday afternoon I was conferenced out and chose to spend Saturday night resting. That’s when I had time to explore Saint Mary’s, a place that will be a return stop the next time I’m in the region (2008 at the latest.)
I took this picture of the marker because I could see the mourning woman as I approached the cemetery. After three days and about six trips back from Amherst, I learned that if I saw her bent in sorrow over the O’Donnell children, I was on the wrong road. “Margaret, Margaret,” she seemed to be saying. “You’ve done it again. Bear right at the light, not left, no matter what the sign says.”
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