Saying goodbye, along Memory Lane

Four generations, half removed. My dad, me, my great-grandfather and my namesake, William Pitcher I.

Four generations, in 1977: William S., William E., Stephen H, and William B. Pitcher, my grandfather, who died last month at age 96. Photo from Richard Lindmark.

Rolling in the procession to my grandfather’s final resting place yesterday, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. Because as my 7-year-old self would tell you, once you pass the Dairy Queen and the old Italian Delight building, round the bend and bear down on the bridge over the Kline Kill, you’re home. The big house on the other side — that’s Grammy and Grampy’s house.

I am now 40, but it will always be Grammy and Grampy’s house. But it is not the same world.

The processional slowed past the home, now restored by his son and family to its Victorian glory. I showed some of his other grandchildren and his great-grandchildren where his garden used to be.

Past the site of his organized chaos of a farm machinery shop where he worked so hard for 30 years — destroyed in a fire 20 years ago and now the home of his son’s and grandson’s auto business.

Past the farms where his hands and tools kept coaxing new life out of equipment for the most honest farmers you’d meet, who often paid him in milk and eggs. The first farm has been stripped of everything but the willow trees. A gate guards the driveway. At the next farm, senior housing stands where the cows used to graze.

Into Chatham, past the bakery — now a martini bar — and into downtown, where the practical shops of his day have been replaced by antique shops and brew pubs for the weekenders. Oh well. He hated shopping.

Into East Chatham, past the church where he raised his family and taught a generation in Sunday School. Outside a special core of friends and honorary aunts and uncles, everyone’s there’s a stranger now.

Past Frisbee Street, where on his dad’s apple orchard he built his family’s first home. A sign at his driveway now welcomes you to the Wards, whoever they are. Past his old school, now a neglected apartment building. Past the homes of two of his pals, Noel Williams and Billy Berlt — gone 50 years between them.

His Chatham changed. His friends and faces changed. His business changed. His family is ever changing. The world evolved. The man did not. Early retirement did not take all his fire. Old age didn’t steal his wit. Dementia didn’t take his joy. And even in a dark day, he’d never let go of his soul. In his last few years, those were all he had, and all he needed. He loved his family. Loved his friends like family. Loved his country. Loved his Jesus.

We said goodbye, for now, in perhaps the only place in his life where time has stood still — the family plot at the far end of the Cemetery of the Maples. Behind his mom and dad. In the shade of three maple trees. The flag that draped his casket clutched in Grammy’s hands. The bugle call echoing as the wind pushed away the clouds.

William B. Pitcher, 1919-2016

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