Granite State of Mind, #70: Stratham Community Church, Stratham
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
I've never been much of a churchgoer - my spirituality has always tended to be more personal than congregational, and while I've had some wonderful relationships with men and women of the cloth over the years, I've never really found a church that felt like home. The PEA Chapel probably comes closest (more on that another time), but that's more a function of Reverend Robert H. Thompson's personal ministry than of any denominational fit. During our travels in Maryland and Washington we haven't felt particularly drawn to any faith community, though we've kicked the tires here and there.
So while there isn't a church I would claim as "mine" in New Hampshire, there are several that I feel connected to for various reasons. One of those is the Community Church in Stratham on Emery Lane, and frankly, it's less the church itself than the churchyard, the adjacent cemetery, that matters to me. My father's father is buried there, the first Albert Pace in an ongoing line of them. He died when I was Bobby's age, and while I recall him fondly, I also recall him through the crumbling edifice of young memory. A New Hampshire native born in Newington in 1911, he was a shipyard rigger, including a stint in Hawaii when he took shrapnel as a civilian during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was an avid fisherman (something he shared with his namesakes, my father Albert Pace and my brother Al Pace, though far less so with me), and I remember him as a polite, charming, handsome man, a steel-haired Kirk Douglas, who taught us how to play cards and who passed far too young from the asbestos in his lungs.
My grandmother Frances I remember much more clearly, given that she lived until 2009, long enough to briefly meet her grandson Bobby, though not Xavier. She was born in 1924 in Portsmouth but grew up in Dover, her French-Canadian roots still evident in her slight accent. She had her own experiences during the war, as a riveter of Mustang airplanes (yup - Grammie the Riveter). She lived with us for more than a decade, in an apartment at my parents' house, and my most vivid recollections of her are from those smoke-filled rooms up there. She was a constant presence at holidays, with her cup of coffee and her compliments for my mother's table settings, and even now it feels somehow wrong that she's not there for Easter or Christmas dinners. She suffered from dementia in her final years, though I think she recognized me the last time I saw her, even after the medications had robbed her of intelligible speech.
They're both buried there, in that Stratham churchyard, and I think of them every time we drive past. I'm probably overdue for a visit when we're home in May. The lilacs will be out, and my gram always did love lilacs.