The main industry of Middle Village is death. Why? – Because in 1851 New York City decreed that there would be no more burials in Manhattan south of 86th Street. Hence, rural little Middle Village became surrounded by cemeteries catering to all religions. Related businesses popped up to serve the dead; tombstone factories and florists were in abundance, and even a crematorium for those who didn’t mind the heat and chose to be cramped up in a decorative urn.
These circumstances led to mini-businesses in the village. On all major holidays the bereaved came to visit their departed. This was a windfall for some village boys. They would bring watering cans to the cemeteries and watered the flowers on the graves and in return received gratuities for their services. During patriotic celebrations they sold American flags to decorate graves. I don’t know if this micro industry raised the Gross National Product much, but it helped.
Growing up in this environment had an impact on a little boy named Herby. For lack of real toys, he had to create his own recreation. Since he was so familiar with the funerary life, he became a Charles Addams-like character by creating his own little cemetery.
First, he consecrated a 2’ x 2’ section of his backyard garden. Then, he needed corpses. He went to the carpenter ant infested tree in front of Mrs. Hill’s house and took a few ants, a little at a time, to the torturous death administered by Herby. After all, you can’t have a cemetery without the departed. Next, he played the role of mortician by placing the body in a paper shroud. Then the mortician became the funeral director, who then dug a small grave and buried the deceased with solemnity. Of course, the grave requires a tombstone, so he placed a pebble to mark the grave site. He kept this up all day until he had a cemetery with scores of neatly aligned tombs, just as they were in St. John’s Cemetery. He stood back and admired his handiwork. He had no inkling that he was nothing less than an insecticidal killer.
Years flew by and Herby matured. His perception of life began to change. In his eclectic studies he began to realize that all living creatures have designated purposes. Further studies and introspections finally created that “Eureka!” moment. How could humans be so arrogant to think that other living creatures do not have souls, a love of life and sensitivity to other living creatures?
How sinfully egotistical is the human race! Herby is deeply remorseful for his savage crimes against nature. For example, when an insect trespasses into their bedroom at night his wife Linda lets out a bloodcurdling scream about the intruder. Rather than kill it, he very carefully picks it up. He then wishes it a safe journey and releases it out of the window into the night. This ritual is done to atone and seek redemption for all his earlier sins.