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O.Henry Ending

Good and Dead

And totally down-to-earth

Story and Photograph by Ashley Walshe

Our neighbors are the best. They’re very quiet, very private — I’ve never actually seen them. But I should mention that they’re also quite dead.

Last spring, my husband and I, newlyweds, moved into an RV near Lake James as sort of a romantic venture. We live at the end of a private drive shared with other RVers (mostly weekend warriors) and a few retirees with swanky prefabs and sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Our view is a little different. Just beyond the camper’s east-facing windows — and I do mean just beyond them — 11 white crosses are staggered among windswept pines, a sparse fringe of mountain laurel and a dusting of vibrant moss. Most of the crosses are wooden, one is broken; a handful are PVC replicas. Two actual headstones, weatherworn as the crooked trees, blend in with the rugged landscape.

The site is decidedly understated. No fencing; no benches; no fancy signage. Propped against the base of a lichen-laced pine, a wooden plank marks “Dobson Cemetery” in hand-painted lettering.

I make it a point to greet the Dobsons each day, same as I would any neighbors. There’s Alexander (d. 1876), who lived to be 83; and Cora J. (obviously dead but stone illegible); and about a dozen others. Lord knows how many bones rest six feet below. But I find comfort in the Dobsons’ quiet presence. So far as I can tell, they don’t seem to mind ours.

My fascination with cemeteries began six years ago while visiting my great aunt in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Shirley was dying of bone cancer, and I was there to help her sort through her worldly possessions. It was a tender time.

While Shirley was facing her mortality in a literal sense, I was navigating a different kind of loss: a heart-wrenching breakup. After supper, I’d venture down the street for a stroll through one of the city’s oldest burial grounds, Lakeview Cemetery. There, perhaps for obvious reasons, my grief felt welcome. Yet so did my dreams of a full and happy life. As I wove among the ancient trees and motley gravestones — the living and the dead — my perspective shifted. We’re not here for long. What will we do with the time we’ve got?

Which brings me back to our camper with a view.

We see our share of white-tailed deer. Birds come and go. But you can imagine we don’t get a ton of human foot traffic back here. We’d had none, in fact, until the other morning.

We were dining on the back deck when our neighbor — a live one from a few lots down — appeared like an apparition amidst the wooden crosses. Our startled dog went ballistic.

“Sorry to disrupt your brunch,” Dave chimed as he tromped heavily through the lot. Despite having lived here for over two years, he’d never felt inclined to visit the cemetery until hearing that the Dobsons “may or may not” be related to Daniel Boone.

He came. He saw. He seemed utterly unimpressed. We returned to our peaceful graveside picnic.

That our dead neighbors might be kin to an American trailblazer certainly intrigued me, but after a bit of fruitless digging — online, mind you — I gladly surrendered the search. The way I see it, they’ve all crossed the veil into that good night. They’re all pioneers. Besides, it’s often the mystery that keeps life interesting. 

On that note, dear neighbors, I’m really glad you’re here. I hope you won’t mind if I keep saying hi. But it’s really OK if you don’t answer.  OH

Ashley Walshe is a former editor of O.Henry magazine and a longtime contributor of PineStraw.

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