(HOST) A recent visit with a very old Brandon resident prompted commentator Caleb Daniloff to reflect on the spirit of the country.
(DANILOFF) A few days ago, I visited with Zeeb Green near the town common in Brandon. Zeeb’s been dead 183 years. But we’re connected – him and me, him and all of us – the guy doing the crossword puzzle at the bus stop, the ladies in swishy skirts heading for brunch, the men towing their boats to the lake.
Zebediah Green is one of a handful of Revolutionary War veterans buried at the cemetery next to the Congregational Church. In fact, Zeeb was a Minuteman – a member of the elite rapid-response division of the Massachusetts militia.
At 21, he fought at Bunker Hill with a band of rag-tag rebels that twice repulsed British regiments seeking the high ground above Boston. The dusty, smoke-filled fighting was reduced at one point to rock-throwing, gun butting and hand-to-hand combat.
While the British finally took the hill, their casualties were more than twice the American count. Bunker Hill convinced Zeeb and other rebels the British could be broken. Their revolution stood a chance.
Zeeb went on to fight at Bennington and Saratoga, survived disease, near-starvation and bitter cold at Valley Forge, and followed General George Washington into battle in New Jersey. Sitting at his worn headstone, I pictured Zeeb’s bones knicked with musket-shot, fractured by bayonet blades. All for me.
I fished an iPod from my bag. I’d recorded myself reading the Declaration of Independence. I wanted those words in my ears, the sentences that launched the ship, that spurred Zeeb to grab an oar.
The syllables at first had felt foreign in my mouth, the phrasing, the sentence structure, the rhythm. There was a lot to stumble over. It took several tries to get it right. This was the language of birth, how we first learned to speak.
Despite the colonial vernacular and splashes of political incorrect- ness, the spirit sailing out on my breath felt anything but strange. The heart of the document is timeless, beating out the voice of the downtrodden – the cry of liberty denied, of government deception and abuse, the erosion of personal rights, the undermining of free will.
Much has happened since Zeeb’s day – electricity, plane travel, mushroom clouds, men on the moon, email…so many different versions of America. But they all trace back to countless Zeebs in countless cemeteries, their bones making up one of the world’s mightiest root systems.
Behind me on Route 7, trucks and SUVs rolled by in a steady stream. I thought about Zeeb marching with Washington, his breast swollen with the feeling that his every step was changing the world. These days, we live so fast, the future is always now. And the higher and further we push, the smaller the ground seems to get. But judging by one small-town cemetery, there’s room enough still to plant flags next to dead soldiers.
Zeeb died in 1822. It’s unclear how he spent his post-war years, though I guess he did well given the size of his headstone and location near the front gate. While he hailed from Massachusetts, he ended up calling Brandon home – one of Vermont’s first flat- landers. But somehow, I don’t think anyone’s going to hold that against him.
This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.
Caleb Daniloff is a freelance writer and recipient of the 2005 Ralph Nading Hill Jr. Literary Prize.