In the 1990s, I lived very close to the Forest Hills cemetery in Jamaica Plain, MA. I mean I practically lived in the damned cemetery on a semi-private road a few hundred feet from the entrance. There were more dead people around me than living ones, by far.
On the other hand, the house was just a stone’s throw (well, a very impressive throw of a stone) from the end of the Orange Line, with easy access to the city where a lot of alive people were crowding together, as they do in cities. To have access to hordes of alive people via the subway and almost as many dead ones via my own two feet, including Eugene O’Neill and E. E. Cummings (not to mention the restauranteur Jacob Wirth), tells you just how versatile my living situation was.
If you must know, I had a girlfriend back in those days, as was expected of young men of my social stature and careful breeding, and it goes without saying that I had a very high level of emotional maturity, which required that I have an equally emotionally mature girlfriend. Sometimes, though, two emotionally mature adults cancel each other’s maturity out, and you end up with an emotionally exhausted couple who go dancing on graves.
Human beings have been dancing on graves ever since dancing and graves were invented. The caveman Oog is credited with dancing the first jig, which he did on the grave of his late rival Boog. But once people started freaking out about the possibility of ghosts, they stopped dancing on the graves of their dead rivals, lest they get visited by poltergeists in the middle of the night.
Which brings me to some dusky evening 25 or so years ago in the Forest Hills cemetery, when, during a tipsy group amble, my girlfriend dared me and others to dance on a grave. Which we did.
I don’t know whose grave I danced on, but suffice it to say that the person buried there was emotionally mature enough in the afterlife not to come to my apartment and rattle chains outside my bedroom door.
A good friend of mine invited me to his family’s house one weekend back in college. They lived in coastal Connecticut in a beautiful old house with something like 8 bedrooms. My friend and his family were gracious hosts and people who were easy to like and feel comfortable with. My buddy had told me lots of interesting and funny stories about his family; one tale I vividly remember him telling me was that his mother had attended school with a woman named “Ophelia Dickey.” It’s incredibly juvenile to be amused by names that play on parts of the anatomy, but I still giggle when I encounter a moniker like Dick Swett or Holger Wank. Or, needless to say, Ophelia Dickey.
Anyway, the whole family was at my friend’s that weekend – my friend’s older sister and her husband, his twin brother – and we had a nice meal one night at the big dining room table. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable time for me to say to his mom, out of the blue, “I’m told you went to school with someone named ‘Ophelia Dickey.’”
“What? No I didn’t,” she replied, somewhat aghast and completely broadsided by this odd comment from me.
It’s not clear where my friend had gotten the idea that his mom had a classmate named Ophelia Dickey. In any event, whenever I encounter a funny name like “Dick Harden,” I’m transported back to that evening, recalling how stupid it was for me to mention to his mother, at dinner, in front of the whole family, that I’d heard she had gone to school with Ophelia Dickey.
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