Births and Deaths

Colin Powell, Castine Selectperson

August 27, 2018

My wife and I are expecting our fourth child soon. We were hoping for our fourth homebirth here in Castine, but some extenuating circumstances are leading us to the possibility that this will be a hospital birth. Talking with Sue and Karen at the town office this morning, I was reminded how strange things can get when humans attempt to create strict structures around things like birth and death.

Karen was telling me about her grandfather, who managed to serve in three armed conflicts for his country, including receiving a letter from President Jimmy Carter without a birth certificate. Seems someone forgot to file it, and in the age before social security, it wasn’t a big deal. Until, of course, he went to collect his social security. Everything was cleared up and he was able to collect what he was owed from his government, but it’s still funny the things we take for granted as having happened.

The same apparently happened to neighbors of ours. The IRS contacted them one day to explain that you can’t file jointly unless you’re married. Well, this was news to them! They thought they were married ten years earlier, but again, someone forgot to file the paperwork. Things got sorted out in the end, but isn’t it always the Internal Revenue Service that catches up to us?

Lastly, I was working on a newspaper story about an effort in neighboring Brooksville to catalog family cemeteries and discovered that people used to register births and deaths wherever was closest. Much of Brooksville along the Bagaduce River is closer to Castine’s town hall than the one in Buck’s Harbor. So when someone’s state of life would change, folks would travel to Castine to register the required paperwork. The person cataloging cemetery data, had to split her time between Castine and Brooksville, as so many people were registered as having been born in Castine, even though they were from Brooksville.

All this to say that our strict rules regarding official paperwork are more fluid than people give them credit for. We might think our world is pretty well structured, but the best stories are often where things break down!