Fifty years ago, when my father went to visit a farm neighbor dying of cancer, he heard him howling with pain the moment he entered our little hometown hospital. I was born in that hospital. When we were in high school, a close friend of mine died in that hospital. Three of our four children were born in that hospital. In that hospital, my appendix was removed. My wife worked in that hospital. My father died in that hospital. A decade or so later, the hospital itself died and was torn down. At the time, someone sent me a picture of the open ground where the hospital used to be. After the initial shock, I remember thinking it would be a great place to grow watermelons. I have no idea what’s there now, but I’m sure it isn’t watermelons. Houses? We have friends who would know. Why haven’t I asked them? Why haven’t they told? Because there are more important things? Because life goes on? Old buildings, old barns, old trees, the old city library of my mother’s childhood and my childhood, alive now in the minds of us old enough but not too old to remember. And the people, the faces, the voices, the barber, the undertaker, the shoe repairman, the mechanic, the storekeeper, the banker, the dentist who hummed and smelled of cologne — all of us, pulling the same door handles, using the same sidewalks and roads, inhaling the same dusty atmosphere — all of us here and all of us gone — and we are the door handles, we are the roads, the trees, the ghosts, the lips on the cup. We are the sweet kisses, the ashes, the past, the present, the dust. And you are one of us.
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