Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rest in Peace

‘Rest in Peace’ does NOT mean that one should be buried and left alone.

Yes, I know that I’ve said that I’m not really good about going to visit graves. And that is true of my loved ones, the ones that I know are in a well groomed graveyard, right where we left them. But what if their graves were unattended? What if tree roots were allowed to burrow through the graves, and headstones toppled willy nilly? If no one even claimed to own the graveyard, so that they didn’t have to be responsible for it’s care?

I might be inclined to change my mind about visiting dead.

My husband is an avid Geocacher, which is a modern day treasure hunter, of sorts. They use a GPS to locate treasures hidden by other Geocachers, posted on the internet by their latitude and longitude coordinates. It is a fascinating sport, which takes you to fascinating places. I tag along sometimes to take pictures of the area. The ones that I enjoy most are the ones that teach about and are designed around the local history.

Geocachers are also very good people. They organize gatherings that not only teach and inspire, but also provide service opportunities, such as “Cache in, Trash Out”, where they remove trash from remote areas that have become littered.

Today was a Geocache event at a graveyard, and we were to clean up and restore the grave sites. I expected a remote, small, family graveyard. One that was inaccessible or had only a few residents. We have attended gatherings of this sort before in small graveyards, and they are always so interesting.

I love to tour old cemetaries, with their worn head stones and simple plots. The names and dates are intriguing to me; I want to know their stories…how they lived, how they died, who they were. I can wander for hours, letting my thoughts wander to distant times and trying to envision who these people were.

I was unprepared for what I saw today.

A graveyard located less then two miles from the center of the town…abandoned and neglected, unclaimed. Ravaged by storms, overgrowth, and time. Headstones that had been felled by trees, buried under rubble and weeds, or worn smooth by the elements. How did this happen? Who owns this land, and why has it been forgotten?

A picturesque farmhouse stands at the bottom of the hill from the graveyard, bright against the lush landscape. The owner, whose name I missed, was grateful that Geocachers had come to work this day, as she and her family had tried for years to maintain the area. Winter storms with winds up to 120 MPH in this area had brought down ancient cedar trees, littering the resting place of these souls. She had contacted the city, who noted that no one claims this land. No one is responsible for it’s care. She – we’ll call her Carey – had obtained permission to have the trees removed and to dispose of the wood. A youth group had come to remove much of the debris.

Carey told us what she knew of the graveyard, next to which she has lived for many years. Legend has it that a VIP had buried his 17 year old son in this grove of cedar trees, many years ago. He then opened the land for others to lay their loved ones to rest. It is hard to tell when the earliest graves were dug, but the most recent one that I found was 1987.

Granite headstones dot the hillside on each side of the road. A fenced area boasts a concrete block reading “FOE 1631”.

As we cleaned, a man arrived, having heard that crews had been in to clean up the tree falls. He was surprised to find us cleaning up; Tom had uncovered his grandparents’ headstone just minutes before. They were in the fenced section, which he explained was a burial place for those who were members of the Eagles Club. His uncle or father had to join the club in order to have the grandparents buried there.

Just up the hill, our friend Dan was placing a fresh new cedar fence for a plot that had been overgrown. It had been well cared for, at one time. It had been fenced, although the fence was rotten and moss covered. Artificial flowers were placed lovingly at the base of a tattered white cross. Worn as they were, he was restoring them to the small vase that he found in the weeds as he pulled them. He had wondered about who might be buried there, without any clues.

This man hurried up the hill, commenting that this was the very grave that he came to see. What a coincidence, that he would come at that moment! He told us that the grave was that of twin girls who had been stillborn. Not having been given names, the parents had placed the white cross in remembrance.

I found a head stone that had been engraved with both the husband and wife’s name, although only the wife had been buried. His death date was prepared with a “19”, the two remaining digits to be chiseled after his death. They had never been added. Is he there, but the headstone had not been updated? Or is he buried somewhere else? And if so….why?

A young service man, a private, from the inscription on the simple stone, died in 1941. A white cross and a faded, torn flag were being choked by weeds. We swept off the marker and tried to clean the face, with little progress. We weren’t sure what to do with the flag, so we left it, tattered as it was.

I had a fantastic day. I got some great shots, both before and after the cleaning, and spent a great deal of time kind of soaking in the names. I got to talk with some really awesome Geocachers. We had a BBQ lunch, with everyone bringing something. By the time that we left, things were looking much better.

I felt haunted by the discoveries, however. I wanted to rush home to put the names into an internet search engine, and see if anything came up. I wanted to know more about these people, whose families seem to have all but deserted them. Are they remembered? I wanted to go back, to do more to restore the peaceful setting. I wanted to visit these people and make sure that they are never again forgotten.

My husband was reading my mind. “I think that we should go back sometime,” he said casually. “we can bring a bucket and brush to clean the headstones…”

I couldn’t have been more thrilled. “a weed eater,” I added, a bit too enthusiastically. “and maybe some flowers.”

He agreed. We would stop at the dollar store to buy silk flowers to spread amongst the graves. And a flag. Our soldier deserves a new flag. I think that we’ve got ourselves a date!

1 comment:

  1. a day well spent. I think you will be getting points in heaven for that service project!