Memorials that hit home
I traveled to my sister’s place last weekend to celebrate my niece’s first birthday, taking my usual route through southern Vermont and New Hampshire. This is a lovely drive, highlighted by winding, rural highways that run alongside rivers and lakes and over rolling hills and small yet impressive mountains.
One of the things I enjoy most about this particular trip are the old haunts it takes me through, such as the small New Hampshire town of Hillsboro, where I lived until I was 14. Driving through Hillsboro always makes me nostalgic, and although sometimes I stop to visit old friends, I often pass through as quickly as possible, on my way to other places.
My sister and her husband live about an hour northeast of Hillsboro. Every time I go there, I pass through a traffic circle in the town of Epsom that I’ve been driving through since I was a child heading to Maine on vacation. On one of my more recent trips, I noticed that the traffic circle had been renamed for two fallen police officers: Jeremy Charron and Michael Briggs. A portion of the highway that runs through Epsom is also named for Jeremy Charron.
I didn’t know Michael Briggs, who was originally from Epsom and was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2006.
But I did know Jeremy Charron.
I knew him as the older brother of my friend Amanda. He went to our church, along with the rest of his family. After church, I often went to the Charrons to play, and some of my earliest memories involve playing with Jeremy and his collection of toy soldiers.
I remember watching Jeremy play basketball and being impressed by how protective he was of his younger sisters. I remember sitting in the bleachers once with Jeremy’s mother, who taught at a rival school, and asking whether she ever had trouble choosing who to root for. “No,” she said. “I always root for Jeremy.”
Jeremy was one of the few people who did exactly what he wanted to do after high school, which was to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Marine. He served his four years and became a police officer in Epsom.
Barely a month into the job, he was gunned down by a parolee with a string of robbery and burglary convictions during a routine check of a parked car in 1997. Rereading the news articles about Jeremy’s murder, I’m shocked at how young he was. He seemed so much older to me, but he was just 24 when he died.
Jeremy’s death was senseless and tragic, and still makes me angry to this day. However, whenever I think of Jeremy, I try to reflect upon his character and personality, rather than the meaningless and regrettable violence that took his life. Driving through the Epsom traffic circle, and seeing his name, makes me feel proud to have known him. It makes me think of his family, and growing up in Hillsboro, and all sorts of things. It reminds me of how many lives have touched and impacted my own.
I drive on highways, bridges and other landmarks named for all kinds of people, and I rarely give the stories behind these public tributes much thought. But each name belongs to a person who made an indelible mark upon the world, who had friends and family who loved them. The signs and plaques that bear their names help keep their memories alive.
If Jeremy’s traffic circle is a source of pride, then the public memorials that spring up in the wake of terrible tragedies are a source of mixed emotions.
After my niece’s birthday party, I drove down to Boston to visit friends from high school. Our dinner reservations were at a barbecue restaurant near Copley Square, and on our way there we paused to take in the makeshift memorial set up to honor the marathon bombing victims.
We weren’t the only ones looking, of course.
Dozens of people wandered among the keepsakes and mementoes that filled the square in the aftermath of the bombing, reading the heartfelt messages of hope and love written on poster board and paper chains, and gazing at the stuffed animals, American flags and running shoes that had been placed at the site. It was a somber scene, but it also had a touristy feel. People had come to pay their respects, but the throngs of visitors and TV news trucks parked on the side of the road gave the site the feel of an attraction.
I felt conflicted about the whole thing.
On one hand, I appreciated the chance to reflect and remember the marathon victims. On the other hand, the whole thing struck me as a rather ghoulish. I never had the urge to visit Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and visiting Copley Square wasn’t exactly high on my list of priorities. But there I was.
“I can only take so much of this,” my friend Jenny said, and we nodded our agreement, and moved on.
I don’t plan on going back to Copley Square anytime soon.
But I’m sure I’ll be headed back through Epsom one of these days, and that I’ll take a moment to remember Jeremy Charron.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.