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Neil Klien, grave digger


Lately I have something stuck in my craw about the anti-evolutionary folks who’ve found our current political milieu not to their liking. Evolution may be “only” a theory, but religion can’t make even that claim.

I’m reading Stephen Jay Gould’s book about Burgess Shale in Alberta and what a rich find it has been for scientists working on the Devonian and Cambrian periods. Too bad Charles Darwin isn’t around to explore the oceans of new data from those oceanic deposits and to admire how they have carried his theory beyond what the man himself could only have imagined — and would have welcomed. Smaller discoveries are often made much closer to home, however; accidental uncoverings that influence our thinking, give it direction or change its trajectory altogether. There was just such a transformational storm in Agincourt last month.

One of the oldest oaks at The Shades, Agincourt’s Protestant and non-sectarian cemetery, lost a major branch to that storm. The tree will survive, but its fallen limb knocked over a substantial tombstone and, in the process, broke the seal on a very large bucket of worms. Cemetery staff hastily reset the stone on its foundation, but before they did, someone noticed a hidden inscription, protected from the weather on its rough under side. Scratched into the surface and highlighted with red lead were these words: “Hard as the banker’s heart but smaller than his ego.” It didn’t take long for Howard Tabor to hear about this 1940s grafitti; once Howard gets his teeth into something there’s no letting go.

The tombstone in question shall remain nameless; suffice to say that it marks the resting place of a former president of the Farmers, Merchants & Mechanics Bank, an amalgam of two smaller banks that joined forces in 1893. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, even local banks had to be predatory and the FM&M was no exception; its foreclosure practices were sometimes questionable and someone clearly felt they had been in this case. Howard and a few close friends searched for other similar inscriptions. So far they’ve found more than a dozen; a handful are laudatory, but the majority are short, snarky haiku like another example nearby that reads “Her life was an open book but a short story.” These ought to be collected and published.

In short order, speculation on the source of these hidden editorials turned to Neil Klien, sexton at The Shades for almost thirty years. All the inscriptions are from stones placed while he was there and, as you might expect in a small community like theirs, all of the deceased were folks Klien would have known. I’m anxious for Howard to tell us why he thinks Klien is the culprit — and especially whether he thinks “culprit” even applies.

PS [06november2022]: For some time I had wanted a palindromatic character in Agincourt, someone connected with beginnings or ends or both. And so Neil Klien came about. Funny thing about Mr Klein: I had completely forgotten that I once had a cousin by that name, who I had completely misplaced in the years following my mother’s departure. Sorry about that, Neil.

1 Comment

  1. […] 2010 September 26 and 28: These two were my celebration of palindromes. […]

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