Reading quotes turns up appropriate gems

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

Later this month, I will be joining my siblings at the family plot in a southern Minnesota cemetery to bury my dad’s ashes. He died two years ago, gave his body to medical research, and we have recently received the ashes back.

It will be a quiet, little ceremony in which we will also honor my mom, who passed away 18 years ago. She also donated her body to science, and back then, receiving her ashes back for burial was not an option for the family.

Regardless, we will honor them both.

In preparing for this occasion, I have been spending my evenings looking at quotes from famous people and authors, looking for something that would be appropriate, given the lives my parents lived.

Reading quotes turned out to be an interesting experience in itself. Lots of people have lots of profound things to say about life. What follows are some quotes I found, some appropriate to this occasion, and some not.

Knowing my parents, I think they would just as soon have no tears shed at this event or any other. As Lord Louis Mountbatten, a British statesman and naval officer of the early 20th century, once said: “I can’t think of a more wonderful thanksgiving for the life I have had than that everyone should be jolly at my funeral.”

My father was a veterinarian, so the first author I turned to for a quote about that profession was Dr. James Herriott, the Scottish veterinarian best known for his book, “All Creatures Great and Small.” In another of his books, “If Only They Could Talk,” he wrote: “My mind went back to that picture in the obstetrics book. A cow standing in the middle of a gleaming floor while a sleek veterinary surgeon … inserted his arm to a polite distance. He was relaxed and smiling, the farmer and his helpers were smiling, even the cow was smiling. There was no dirt or blood or sweat anywhere.

“That man in the picture had just finished an excellent lunch and had moved next door to do a bit of calving just for the sheer pleasure of it, as a kind of dessert. He hadn’t crawled shivering from his bed at two o’clock in the morning and bumped over 12 miles of frozen snow, staring sleepily ahead till the lonely farm showed in the headlights. He hadn’t climbed half a mile of white fell-side to the doorless barn where his patient lay.”

My dad made many such calls over the years, and Herriott does not exaggerate the experience a bit.

In the years just after World War II, when my dad was practicing, farms weren’t “corporate farms” or “hobby farms” like they are today. They were truly “family farms.”

In those days, no farm families had day jobs in town. They got to town once a week, if then. Their kids went to a country school, and they attended a country church.

When I traveled with my dad on his calls, if we went more than five miles from town, the farmer thought we had come a long way, and more often than not invited us in for cake and coffee or milk.

As for librarians, I found two quotes that reflect the profession well. First, Terry Pratchett, an English novelist of the late 20th century in his novel “Going Postal” wrote: “People flock in, nevertheless, in search of answers to those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as ‘Is this the laundry?’ ‘How do you spell surreptitious?’ and, on a regular basis, ‘Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.’”

Many times, I’m certain, my mother could have answered even that last question. She knew well the collection of every library in which she worked. More importantly, in the days before the Internet made it easy, she knew where to find the answer to almost anything.

Second, Marilyn Johnson wrote this in “This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All”: “Good librarians are natural intelligence operatives. They possess all of the skills and characteristics required for that work: curiosity, wide-ranging knowledge, good memories, organization and analytical aptitude and discretion.”

I may be prejudiced on the matter, but I think, even with the Internet, we’d all be a lot dumber without librarians.

Then, more to the occasion at hand, I was reminded of this quote by the stage manager in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”: “We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars. … Everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for 5,000 years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

And finally, Wendell Berry, a wonderful poet and author from Kentucky, wrote this in his novel “Jayber Crow”: “The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars. … I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did. I felt their completeness as whatever they had been in the world. … The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was and of the world that is to come.”

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected].