I have just been listening to a news account about a Vermonter killed in Iraq. Come spring, he will be buried….and details follow. Come spring? Oh. Yes. Right. We have to wait for the ground to thaw. My friend T points out that Vermont cemeteries are located on southern slopes, the first to defrost once spring comes. If granny doesn’t make it through the winter, Vermonters put her—now more figuratively than literally—on ice. And there she stays until the ground thaws, someone can dig down the traditional six feet, and granny’s mortal remains can be deposited in the spot she always expected to occupy. Right now we can’t possibly chip away the earth, so granny will have to wait, and so will we.
This is no odder, arguably less odd than burial practices elsewhere. I think of aboveground interment in New Orleans. My mind also flashes back to an uncomfortable discussion when I was on an Episcopal Church vestry about how when you own a cemetery plot you actually own a condo…that bodies are actually buried three deep…and presumably it is a first come “first floor” scenario. I don’t know about you, but this all makes me focus on the benefits of cremation.
Even so, all this talk of disposition of remains after life is over is more palatable than folk tales in Vermont of how the old folks are packed in hay and put out back to winter over. Thus disposed, apparently they are no longer a drain on the food supply, and come spring, they are defrosted no worse for wear and needing only to be updated about the winter’s rigors. One can only imagine that they want to hear it was a really tough one, requiring their enforced slumber. One wonders if the old folks are thawed in time to vote at Town Meeting the first Tuesday in March. http://www.sec.state.vt.us/townmeeting/citizens_guide.html
It took me a long time, but one day I realized why Vermont towns are fundamentally different from Southern towns. Vermont towns touch each other, Southern towns hardly ever do. The Town of Morristown butts up against the Town of Stowe, which is cheek by jowl with the Town of Waterbury. Put together, there are ten Towns in Lamoille County, with a few Villages occupying subsets of their respective Towns. There is a County Seat in Hyde Park, but no county government to speak of.
In Georgia (the-state-I-mean-not-the-Town-of-Georgia-Vermont), where I grew up, the governing structure is different. Counties touch counties, as they do here, but within counties are large spaces that are not part of any Town; they call these spaces “unincorporated.” The difference, ultimately, is the weather. If you had this system in Vermont, who would plow the snow? Highway construction in Georgia (the state) is a state function, and the one-person-one-vote high involvement in local politics simply does not exist in the same way.
Interesting, eh, how something as fundamental as weather drives differences in burial custom and even differences in local governmental structure?