Cemetery Stories – Calvary

20130919_140552I wasn’t raised Catholic, so I don’t know for certain that all Catholic cemeteries are named Calvary, but in this neck of the woods, if you see a huge “Calvary Cemetery” sign, chances are it’s Catholic.  Which leads me to cemetery #2 on the blog tour of local cemeteries!

I tend not to creep myself out too much during the daylight hours, when it’s easy to scoff at the movement in the shadows or the weird sound coming from across the way.  It’s just the birds, or the wind, or another damn bird.  (I’m a total wimp when night falls, by the way.  The Blair Witch Project still scares the crap out of me and I’m not even sure it was that scary of a film.)

Even with my daytime bravado, I was very thankful I’d read the news in the local paper that the cemetery was having badger problems.  Especially when I came upon this sight:


(Um, you’re seeing the hole, too, right?)

Badgers.  Not anything trying to escape.  Well, maybe trapped badgers, but that’s all.  That’s all, right?

I wandered through the older graves and took a turn to the newer ones.  I stopped to take this picture…


…and was instantly transported to days long gone when my parents would stop at “The Cemetery” to visit my grandfather’s grave.  (It was always referred to as “The Cemetery” when I was growing up.  I didn’t even know it had a name until I was leaving for college and thought to ask.)  My grandmother traveled with empty plastic buckets and milk jugs, which we would carry to a spigot much like this one and then lug back.  My dream was to be deemed strong enough to carry one of the full buckets.  After my begging wore them down, I was then deemed too careless to carry the buckets after some water sloshed over the tops.

Tending my grandfather’s grave was a solemn affair.  The geraniums had to be deadheaded and then everyone would gather to appraise the shrubs and discuss whether or not they needed to be dug up and replaced.  Then we’d water whatever needed to be watered and be on our way.  At some point, everyone would peel away from the group for a moment or two and stand at my grandpa’s grave with thoughts too private to share.  Grief and loss were not communal property in my family, at least not between adults and children.

I almost never encounter other people when I visit cemeteries, and I’ve visited many in the past year.  Yet at every cemetery I’ve visited, the signs of mourners are always present.  There are wind chimes, flowers, neatly-clipped shrubs and empty water jugs waiting to be filled.

I’m not sure I’m working up to saying anything profound in this post, just that when I visit cemeteries know, I know to look for the signs of grieving, the work that continues – sometimes publicly, sometimes privately – even when it seems like no one’s ever there.

Cemetery Stories – Woodlawn

20130916_104722I named my blog “Cemeteries and Pajamas” because, as the blog tag says, I write in my pajamas and I like to visit cemeteries.  I’ve done a lot of both in the past months and now I’d like to blog about them more.  I’m still working out what I’ll say about pajamas, because blogging about what I’m wearing is kinda creepy and might attract the wrong kind of attention to the blog.  So for now, stories about cemeteries!

(As a reminder, all of these visits feed the novel I’m currently writing, which heavily features cemeteries.  I started visiting cemeteries for inspiration and because it’s a great excuse to step away from the keyboard from time to time.)

I wrote a little about the Woodlawn visit a few months ago, but I like to be comprehensive, and since this is the start of a new blog series, I thought I’d start with my first cemetery visit.

Woodlawn is situated on a steep hill underneath towering pines.  I was accompanied by one of my wee ones.  When we pulled into the tiny parking lot, the first thing he said was, “Mommy, are there ghosts here?”

My response:  “Why, what did you see??”

I reassured him that there were no ghosts in the cemetery.  He pointed to the thicket of woods behind the car and asked if there were ghosts in there.  After I bonked my head on the car roof from jumping, I unhooked him from his carseat and we went exploring.

20130916_102843           20130916_104252      20130916_103552

Visiting a graveyard with a child is a curious experience.  My son was vibrant and happy as he ran between the headstones and up the mound that held, for some reason, a cannon.  We listened to the wind chimes breezing against a marker.  We got burrs on our shoes.  We talked about how there were dead people underneath our feet.  He wondered what color they were and if we could see them.  I wondered how much of this would stick in his young mind.

20130916_102959Months later he still talks about the dead, about how they are beneath our feet, “holding us up.”  We are a religiously diverse family.  We don’t talk about heaven much, or higher powers, but I resonate with the image of a tiny boy being supported by those who have gone before.

Maybe it’s being a parent, or entering my late 30s, or being on sabbatical, or a combination of all three plus a dose of existential angst.  But this past year has been marked by contemplating the reality of death, focused on this question, “What do I want to do before I die?”  As I wrestle with these questions, I am supported by those who came before, and now, by those who come after.