Monthly Archives: October 2015

Death’s Garden: The Sacred Heart

Photos of Sacred Heart Cemetery by Robert Holt.

Photos of Sacred Heart Cemetery by Robert Holt.

by Robert Holt

Born with great gusto and dying in the early hours, the life of a party ends when the host announces she is going to bed but that everyone is welcome to stay. Nobody ever stays, except the closest friends, and usually they have the party taken out of them and are only staying to help clean up. This was the case of the party in 1999, the year of the Y2K scare, the year I turned twenty-one.

The party was a close friend’s. It wasn’t my birthday party, although it was held just two days after my birthday. Most of the people there I did not know or knew only as passing faces from earlier parties.

When the host drifted toward her bed, I was left with only one other straggler: our host’s childhood friend who had rekindled the friendship recently. I knew Jessica as the long-legged brunette that regularly did yoga. The numerous stories I had heard about her had conglomerated into a mishmash of our host’s other friends, all of whose names also began with J. What I did know about her was that she was beautiful and way out of my dating league.

I walked from the living room to the kitchen, carrying the remainder of beer bottles and dumped them into the trash can. Jessica was there hand-washing a serving tray. “I guess we should go,” she said. I wondered if she was waiting for me to leave out of a lack of trust for me.

“Yeah.” I pulled out my keys. “I guess I’ll see you later.”

“It seems a waste to end the night so early.”

I looked at the clock. It was nearly one in the morning. “Want to try and make last call somewhere?”

She shook her head. “We would never make it. Besides, we have beer here.”

“Do you want to stay here for another beer?”

“Not really. I’m just not ready to end the night.”

I thought for a moment. “Do you want to grab a few beers and take a walk?”

She smiled and her face shone with an amber glow. “Where to?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I thought just a walk. Or maybe down to the cemetery to tell ghost stories.”

“Sure,” she said to my surprise. “That sounds like fun.”

Several beers were opened. We set off on a mile walk to the Sacred Heart Cemetery, nestled back in the woods off the Meramec River just south of Saint Louis. We got less than a quarter-mile from the house before an officer pulled up beside us and asked us to pour out our beers. We did and continued our journey under the bright summer sky.

The sidewalk ended and we walked side by side in the narrow street, talking about college and work and dreams. She knew my birthday had just happened and insisted on walking on the outside. “The eldest always walks on the outside,” she said. “You have more life ahead of you. This way a car would hit me and not you.” She was ten months older.

IMG_8651I laughed and put my hands on her hips and moved her to the inside. The moment my hands touched her, I felt a shocking thrill pulse through my body. I was thankful for the darkness so she couldn’t see me blushing.

As we reached the heavy raw-iron gate with Sacred Heart spelled out over it, I turned to her. I felt my pulse quickening in my neck. “Do you still want to do this?” I half-hoped she would chicken out so that I could comfort her fears and not go through the open gate.

“I’m game.” She grabbed my hand, sending another wave of excitement through me. “But only if you promise to stay with me.” With that said, she led the way into the cemetery. As we stepped into the soft grass, a cold breeze blew in from the river. I stepped ahead of her and took the lead. In the center of the cemetery was a bench and a monument. I pulled her gently to the bench. We sat down and continued our conversation from the road. The temperature continued to drop. A low, snaking fog rose up from the grass, sending clouds puffing up with each movement of our feet. After we sat for a few minutes, talking in hushed shaking voices, a cricket chirped near us.

“What was that?” She squirmed closer to me.

“It was just a cricket.” I put my hand on her knee. “Just a cricket.”

IMG_1903She shifted her weight and I brought my hand back nervously. A tree frog chirped. She jerked and shuddered.

“Just a frog,” I told her quickly.

“Are you sure?”

I laughed. “Yes, I’m sure.”

After another few minutes, a screech owl joined the conversation with its piercing cry.

Jessica jumped to her feet. “What the hell was that? What the hell!?”

I grabbed her hand. “It was an owl.”

“What?”

“An owl, it was a screech owl, and it is really close, but it won’t hurt us. If you want to leave, though, we can.”

Jessica sat back down. “No, not until you’re ready.” She flinched as the tree frog chirped. Her whole body tensed. I slid my arm around her. She jumped at the touch and laughed and fell into my chest for a second. “Aren’t you scared?”

I smiled at her. “I told you, I want to be a horror writer. I like being scared. So, yeah, I’m scared out of my mind right now, and I’ve never been happier.”

She looked at me. In the cold summer night’s light, I thought for a second that she might let me kiss her. This beautiful woman might actually let me kiss her.

IMG_8654The moment was shattered as quickly as it came by the angry barks of dogs. “Now it’s time to go,” I said. We ran toward the gate, laughing with fear.

Our walk back was spent laughing at our foolishness and playfully fighting over who had to walk on the inside. As we got back to our cars, I got a pen and wrote her my phone number. “I had fun,” I said, “I would like to hang out again sometime.”

She smiled and said a noncommittal “Sure,” and I left.

I slept until noon the next day. She called a half-hour later.

We were married in 2003 and our daughter was born in 2009, our sacred heart.

***

DSC00247Robert Holt is an author who ranges from splatterpunk horror to children’s literature. He currently has two books available on Amazon: Death’s Disciples and The Vegetarian Werewolf and Other Stories.

Follow him on Twitter @HoltHorror or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/holthorror.

***

About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation. The submissions guidelines are here.

Death’s Garden: Toasting a Ghost in Northern Ireland

James Read's grave in Ireland. Photo by Anne Born.

James Read’s grave in Ireland. Photo by Anne Born.

by Anne Born

Have you ever gone on a quest? Have you looked for your own Holy Grail? Sometimes it’s tracking down the third book in a series or another copy of a book you loaned out but never got back. Maybe it’s a search for the perfect Piña Colada or Sangria. My quest began when I started looking for my great-great-grandfather, James Read. He died in 1871. I began a quest to find his grave.

I found the family name in a 19th-century city directory online, the rough equivalent of an old phone book. What came next was an avalanche of data on this man and his career as a newspaperman, postmaster, merchant, and printer in the town of Larne. His wife became postmistress after he died.

So I got on a plane for Ireland, made an appointment to meet with the town librarian, and pre-ordered up archival paper copies of his newspaper. I took a bus to the Larne library, where his newspapers were waiting for me. This library had a complete set of his paper, either on paper or on film. I was ecstatic, but my quest was only beginning.

I sat down to browse through the papers. Read had featured poetry and excerpts from novels alongside news about the world, about travel, and about the fairy folk who were wreaking havoc on local horse barns and the neighbors’ crops. All the while, a man sat across from me, reading old papers from Ballymena. I smiled at him when I sat down, but we hadn’t said anything.

The librarian came over to check on me and said, “You know, you might want to speak with the local historian while you are here. That’s him right there.”

I extended my hand and said, “Is it really you? I’ve read your book. I’m from New York and I am the great-great-granddaughter of your postmaster.”

James Read's newspaper. Photo by Anne Born.

James Read’s newspaper. Photo by Anne Born.

He stopped what he was doing and took my hand. “James Read’s family? Let me take you outside and show you your great-great-grandfather’s post office.”

With that, we took off. We walked down the hill into town and he showed me the older buildings, saying, “That’s a building your family would have known,” or “That’s a building that was here when he was.” He brought me into the current newspaper office and introduced me as if I were a celebrity, saying, “This is his great-great-granddaughter. She’s a writer. You might want to do a story on her visiting us.”

We went back up to the library and I asked him the most important question: where would I find James Read’s grave?

“Well,” he said, “there are two cemeteries here. He’s going to be in one or the other; you will just have to look.”

I thanked him and he left to run some errands. I stopped into the local bookstore to buy copies of his other books and then I took off in search of James Read’s grave.

I tried the closer of the two cemeteries first, the one in front of the church by the river. It was well-kept. People had collected all the fallen headstones and set them up, one next to the other, to form a kind of spirit fence around the yard. It made reading them very easy, but they were dislocated from their graves. I worried that even if I found his name, I would never know which was his grave.

After about 45 minutes, I had scanned most of the headstones. I felt deep down that I was just in the wrong place, like I was being pulled away, so I took some last photographs and walked up the hill to the edge of town where the second cemetery sat alongside the highway. It was significantly larger than the first. I was convinced I would never find him, even if this was where he was buried. But this was a quest after all and a quest is rarely easy.

I stepped through the gate and surveyed McGarel Cemetery. It was really large. I found out later it was divided into two sections, the Catholics in one and the Protestants in the other. My quest looked hopeless. Suddenly I remembered something my mother used to tell me: When it looks hopeless, try prayer. I was in a cemetery, after all, and saying a prayer in a cemetery wasn’t all that extreme an activity. I prayed to his patron saint, Saint James, just to let me find my James so I could pay my respects. I was connecting with my family and it was important to me.

I was running out of daylight, but I felt sure I was in the right place. I decided to take the point of view of the game piece on a Ouija Board and let the spirits or souls in the cemetery pull or push me until I found what I had come looking for.

Up one row of headstones along the left side of the grounds and then, back down the other, reading stone after stone, I kept being pulled to the central path. I was all alone with just the sound of some cars behind me on their way into town. Then I closed my eyes, imagined finding the grave, and started to walk up to the right, near the opposite edge of the grounds and along the fence.

And there he was. I stood in front of a tall, vine-encrusted stone monument that proclaimed the death of the town postmaster. It was surrounded by a low rail fence and littered with a sad half-dozen beer cans from the previous night’s haunted revelry. I swept the cans away and climbed over the fence to touch the stone and to read the inscription.

The inscription told me James was born in Ballymena. James’ son Robert is buried there too. I felt terrible I didn’t think to bring flowers, but I can’t say that I ever seriously believed I could find him. Yet there he was. There we were. I think we had really just found each other.

I celebrated that evening with a lovely chilled champagne back at my hotel. I was staying at a certifiably haunted castle just a bit further up the road in Ballygally and I thought it would be the perfect thing: to toast the ghost of my ancestor. I toasted St. James too, of course, for leading me to him.

***

401113_352887774743767_1246657870_nAnne Born: Pilgrim, writer, photographer, mom. Look for her books A Marshmallow on the Bus: A Collection of Stories Written on the MTA (June 2014) and Prayer Beads on the Train: Another Collection of Stories Written on the MTA (March 2015) at the NY Transit Museum Store, Word Up Community Bookstore, CreateSpace, Q.E.D. Astoria, and Amazon.

Check out her new radio show on Our Salon Radio: Born in the Bronx.

Contact info: http://about.me/anneborn

Anne’s books: http://astore.amazon.com/thebacpre-20

Anne’s websites: http://thebackpackpress.com and http://tumbleweedpilgrim.com/

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About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation. The submissions guidelines are here.

Death’s Garden: Jacksonville Cemetery

Broken bud

Broken bud photo by Loren Rhoads

by Stacey Graham

Jacksonville, Oregon was a dirty little rut. Miners swarmed the hills looking for gold hidden in creekbeds and left it destitute of honor, beauty, and respectability. Once gold was pulled from Rich Gulch in 1851, Jacksonville blossomed, while men drug mules through the mud streets and into the hills, leaving their families to struggle in the small Southern Oregon village.

Pioneers bringing hope for a new life eased into the Oregon Territory. As campsites gave way to houses and businesses forced the miners into behaving, Jacksonville broadened its shoulders and grew into one of the largest cities in Oregon in the last half of 19th century. Farmers tamed the surrounding land, changing the face of the ancestral home of the Upland Takelmas tribe as the Native Americans jostled for position amongst the newcomers—and fell behind.

The population stumbled in 1884 when the railway bypassed Jacksonville, now the county seat, for nearby Medford. With the railway went businesses and residents looking for a way out of this tiny Western town butting up against the hills. Jacksonville fell into a gentle decay until the 1960s, when town residents protested against having Interstate 5 dividing the town and sparked preservation efforts.

Jacksonville now has National Historic Landmark protection on over 100 of its buildings — plus the cemetery — due to their efforts.

The first burial on the land occurred in 1859, before the cemetery was officially opened. Local businessman John Love got permission to bury his mother in October. Plots were being advertised by December 1859 and the ground was dedicated in 1860. It has been filling ever since.

My story in Jacksonville started in 1982. Moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to a hamlet called Applegate, twelve miles from Jacksonville and along the river, I became involved in Jacksonville’s history by volunteering as a teenager to be a historical interpreter at the Beekman House, as well as working at the now defunct museums.

Summers in the Rogue Valley were often between 90-100º. Wearing layers of period clothing in a non-air conditioned mansion led me to take lunch breaks up in the hills surrounding Jacksonville. Winding into the trees where it was cooler, I’d drive into the cemetery overlooking the town and relax.

Often I’d have lunch with the Beekmans, but then branched out to visit other graves on the 41 acres. My favorite was Josephine, no last name listed. Her late 19th-century stone was small and crumbling. Evidently she had been forgotten, perhaps right after burial, as lives flowed through the town like gold dust—just a wink and it was gone. The dirt path cut over her gravesite. Her stone was half-buried in the shrubbery. Having a soft spot for the underdog, I pulled away the weeds and brought the stone back into the sunlight. Thirty years later, I still think about my first adopted gravesite.

While Josephine’s stone gave no clue to her demise and only a death year now lost to my bad memory, other stones shared the realities of the early pioneers: cholera, diphtheria, measles, smallpox, lead poisoning, and “Indian War” made the list of ways to hit the dirt early in Jacksonville.

While in college, years later, I took a class that focused on the community. I had a pick of subjects; it only needed to be something that once brought the community together, as well as charted the development of the Rogue Valley. What better microcosm than a cemetery?

Plotting the cemetery was easy. For the most part, it was well-maintained (aside from poor Josephine) and sectioned into seven segments including Jewish, Catholic, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and the Independent and Improved Order of Red Men. A potter’s field on the north side of the cemetery held the remains of blacks, whites, Native Americans, Hawaiians, and possibly Chinese. Due to the nature of being a potter’s field, there are no gravestones beyond a more recent monument erected to honor the 133 bodies left behind.

As my research continued, the connection between the community was clear: everybody dies. Choosing to focus on the art of the stonework, I wove patterns from their shared stories. Hardship, bad luck, and disease were etched into the faces of the gravestones — but decorated by art, it became part of their narrative. A child taken by measles, a middle-aged man lost in war, or a woman buried next to her infant: represented by lambs, half-opened roses, even beehives and horses told tales that no date could share.

I later earned degrees in History and Archaeology/Anthropology to learn more about how we keep the circle going and how the past influences our choices. I’ve continued my work, quietly visiting cemeteries around the United States. Now I take my children as the next generation of gravestone custodians and art lovers. What better way to revisit Josephine and tell her that she’s not forgotten?

***

SGrahamMHStacey Graham is the author of four books and a ragtag collection of short stories. You may currently find her scaring the pants off of readers with her book Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls, and Other Creepy Collectibles. She intends on returning the pants at a later date. Please visit her website, at Twitter, and at Facebook to share your ghost story.

***

About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. (This one’s a little late.)  If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you. The submissions guidelines are here.

The Most Beautiful Cemetery Book in my Collection

Pere LachaisePere Lachaise by Mark Ballogg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

UPDATE: You can order the book directly from Mark now: http://www.balloggphoto.com/pere-lachaise-book.php

I own many, many cemetery books. This is the most beautiful of all of them.

Mark Ballogg’s photography is a revelation. The range of tones and the precision of focus in his pictures is breathtaking, vertigo-inducing, and gives you a sense that his camera sees so much more incisively than you ever could, even if you were standing right there beside it. These are photos to be studied, to be treasured.

The book opens with a dirty, broken styrofoam crucifix lying amidst some weeds beneath a bouquet of silk roses. I’ve never seen life and death captured so well in a photograph. The sense of time passing, of things dissolving, continues in the photo from Avenue Eugene Delacroix, where the faces of the family have melted away, leaving ghosts in stone behind.

Now and then Ballogg pulls back to give a larger view of the cemetery. Its tombs stand side by side like houses along a street, but there are no people here, no wildlife — not even a leaf on a tree, in some cases. Life has come and gone in some of these images, leaving only the photographer behind to capture what remains.

Avenue Eugene Delacroix photo by Mark Ballogg. I apologize for the quality of my scan.

Avenue Eugene Delacroix photo by Mark Ballogg. I apologize for the quality of my scan.

One of my favorite photos is taken through the cross cut into the heavy iron door of the Morel family tomb. Two stained marble faces stare out of the arms of the cross, while below, a cherub clasps its hands together. I really like the sense of the tomb’s denizens returning my curiosity.

Ballogg is an architectural photographer, so the details of the stonework often draw his eye. The most spectacular photograph is taken on the Avenue Circulaire. It captures the cemetery at its most exuberant: full of solid tombs, filigree metal doors, an obelisk, a truncated column, a muse laying a palm, and a bearded life-sized duelist with broken sword upraised. I don’t know how you could look at that photograph and not want to travel to Paris to see it in person.

If I am so blown away by the photography, why have I only given the book 4 stars? Unfortunately, the text does not measure up to quality of the images.

The introductory essay by Michael A. Weinstein is adequate, despite wallowing unnecessarily in academic artspeak. For instance, “It is only by looking into a photographic print made by a masterful modernist that one is able to experience it completely.” Well, duh. It’s a two-dimensional object. How else could you experience it? Still, I do like Weinstein’s analogy that a well-composed photograph is like a lyric poem, something to be savored and returned to.

Despite the quibbles I might have with the punctuation of its title, I expected “The Pere Lachaise Cemetery–A Nineteenth Century Idealization of Parisian Society” to be a history of the cemetery. Instead, it’s a kind of academic word salad where I couldn’t figure out how one sentence led to the next. I know enough about the history Pere Lachaise not to be thrown by weird flow of time through the essay, but your mileage may vary. A linear progression would have served the material much better.

Luckily, it is entirely unnecessary to read the text in order to draw the maximum amount of pleasure from this book. It’s slipcased, oversized, clothbound, with smooth matte pages that reproduce the photographs in a dense spectrum of grays. This cemetery book is a pinnacle of the subject and will be an ornament to your collection.

Full disclosure: This was the first project I helped fund on Kickstarter.  Mark suffered a heart attack soon after the Kickstarter ended, so the book was delayed for years, but I more than got my money’s worth.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Death’s Garden: Crossed Fingers

All photos of Pleasant Hill by Jo Nell Huff.

All photos of Pleasant Hill by Jo Nell Huff.

by Jo Nell Huff

“Cemetery! Cross your fingers!”

The admonition floats to the surface of my consciousness like the command of an angel as I see the cemetery ahead on the left. The child within me obediently crosses the middle finger over the index finger of both hands. I continue to drive my car along the freeway at 70 miles per hour.

When I traveled with my family as a child, the females in the car crossed their fingers while passing a cemetery. Father did not participate. Either an older sister or my mother would warn of an approaching cemetery and we would all cross our fingers. I confess that I still do it after these years, even though I know it is foolish. While driving alone, I can boldly cross them without fear of derision. When traveling with fellow passengers who do not know of this ritual, I usually casually fold one hand in my lap or drape one arm over the car seat as I cross my fingers. Today, since I’m alone, I can cross boldly.

Corneilious Cooper 1The purpose of this ceremony? It was one of many beliefs my mother acquired from her childhood in East Texas, where superstitions were as natural as going to the cellar to escape tornadoes whenever unusually dark and heavy clouds appeared with the slightest suspicion of wind. She was determined to pass this fertile legacy on to her daughters, even though we were born and reared in South Texas, where rain was always welcome, even if accompanied by tornado or hurricane, and where superstitions were not so abundant.

Was it to keep death away, since one was passing so close to it? Or was it bad luck not to cross your fingers when passing a cemetery, just as it was bad luck for a black cat to cross your path? Mother never fully explained the origin or reason and we never questioned her command. I feared failure to cross my fingers might cause me to be struck dead on the spot or even damned to Hell forever. Something bad was sure to happen…maybe I would even cause the death of someone in the family. As I got older — somewhere around my teenage years — I simply did it out of habit and to placate my mother. Now it is a reminder to say a short prayer for the safety of my loved ones. Mother would surely have approved of my blend of Christianity and heathen superstition, if she was still alive.

Protocol applied to the procedure. For example: entering a place of interment for a burial service or to visit the grave of a loved one, friend, acquaintance, or any famous person did not require crossed fingers. If you lived close to a cemetery that you passed on a daily basis, you were exempt.

Rutha Cooper 1

Rutha Cooper’s headstone

It would be wrong to assume that my mother feared or shunned the resting places of the dead. For her, the cemetery was a place to visit and remember the past. When we went to East Texas to visit relatives, it always included visiting the cemetery.

Uncle Houston lived next to a cemetery, where he worked as the caretaker. He and Aunt Mable lived in a small house at the top of a red clay hill next to Pleasant Hill Cemetery. The house had electricity but no indoor plumbing. Water was drawn from a well in the backyard and heated on the gas stove in the kitchen. Leafy tobacco sometimes grew beside the well.

Straight from the well, the water was cool and sweet. A bucket with a dipper sat on the back porch next to the kitchen door, ready to quench one’s thirst or fill the washbasin for cleaning up before going into the house. The kitchen usually smelled faintly of sausage, eggs, and biscuits. The linoleum floors were perpetually dusted with a fine coating of red sandy dust, which Aunt Mable fought daily with her well-worn broom.

Putting on his oversized hat, loosely fitting khakis, and long-sleeved denim shirt, Uncle Houston would leave the house before it got hot and head off for his place of work with his trusty hoe. In the cemetery, he fought the plague of nut grass as if it were the devil himself transformed and risen from Hell. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the melodic clang! of the lightly swung hoe as it hit a small rock or coping — the cement closure around a family plot or a single grave — and echoed through the pines and sunshine.

By mid-morning I could find him deep within the domain of the silent and eternal sleepers. The golden sun would be out. Pleasant Hill Cemetery was a place not of decaying death, but of exploration and adventure. The setting was quiet except for the sound of an occasional car or truck passing on the two-lane highway that connected the small East Texas towns of Henderson, Kilgore, Troup, Arp, Laird Hill. The smell of pine needles and resin filled the summer day. Running through the huge cemetery, I would look for his straw hat and listen for the sound of his hoe. The newer tombstones were of less interest to me, so I always hoped he would be working in the older sections, around the ones with real character and history and visions of people who lived and died in another century.

DCP_0003My grandfather, Joe Cooper, and several generations of Coopers, were buried there — Cornelius, born May 7, 1801/died September 21, 1886 and Rutha, born September 21, 1804/died June 29, 1890, his grandparents; Samuel H. and Mary Jane, his parents. The oldest graves were outlined with bricks and marked by headstones whose letters were bleached by the sun and worn so smooth by wind and rain that reading them was difficult. I was sure there was nothing left of my family members but porous bones, faded cloth, and maybe a bit of metal from a belt or button, but my imagination conjured up visions of how they might have looked and lived and loved. Years later, I did see a picture of Cornelius and Rutha, a stern and sturdy couple, which did not exactly coincide with my romantic interpretations of my ancestors. My grandmother, who died four months before I was born, was buried in the cemetery also. She saved my grandfather a space on her right. To her left was room for two more: Uncle Houston and Aunt Mable, possibly. They took special care of this family plot which might someday be their final home.

Uncle Houston loved to tell me something about each plot he worked on. He took pride in his work and diligently kept the nut grass at bay. He did sometimes use a mower for the grassy walkways between the graves, but around the headstones, the hoe was the only way to keep it neat.

Mary Lois, who died in the explosion at the school.

Mary Lois, who died in the explosion at the school.

Many headstones had small oval black-and-white photos of young children and teenagers, set lovingly in dark gray granite. Some were victims of the New London school disaster that occurred on March 18, 1937. Gas accumulated beneath the building ignited by a spark when someone turned on a sanding machine. The explosion killed 294 students and teachers in the building. Investigators concluded that, to save money, the school board and superintendent had approved tapping into a residue gas line containing “green gas,” which has no smell and could not be detected as it seeped beneath the building. Uncle Lamar and Aunt Ora King lost their only daughter, Mary Lois, in the blast. She had begged her mother to let her stay home from school that day to go shopping. Aunt Ora advanced to an old woman almost overnight. She never ventured out very much after that and spent most of her time in her rocking chair.

Others in the cemetery died of more common causes: pneumonia, diphtheria, childbirth, broken necks, car accidents, old age, drowning, and passion. One tombstone, etched with a bouquet of roses, marked the remains of a young wife shot to death by her husband, who caught her down by a creek in the very act of sin with another man. Her lover was wisely and discreetly laid to rest in the next county. The husband, acquitted, lived to be an old man and was buried in another part of the cemetery with his wealthy ancestors. A tall monument resembling an obelisk marked his site; he apparently never remarried and slept alone next to his loyal kin.

Some small plots contained the remains of an unnamed child born too soon and departed before the family could even give it a name other than “Infant Son of…” or “Infant Daughter of…” One featured a resting lamb atop a tiny headstone and read, “Beloved child of Will and Beulah Jones /Sleep with the Angels.” Another revealed how very short her time on earth had been, “Sara Ellen Thompson/Born April 20, 1891/Died December 14, 1891.”

DCP_0010Those left behind today seem to have less inclination and time to spend with their loved ones and friends once the burial service is over. They seldom visit their resting places to say hello, seek advice, share good fortune, lament a bit of bad luck, introduce the latest grandchild, or bring fresh flowers.

With no Uncle Houston to tend my grave, I choose not to slumber eternally in one of those practical generic perpetual care cemeteries that are maintained impersonally by teams of workers riding John Deere mowers and listening to country-and-western music on their headphones. The cemeteries may be well kept, but they are as dull as a recycled eulogy or taped songs at a funeral. They simply lack character and drama. Who would want to visit such a place anyway? What if no one ever came to visit me there? Despite my maternal attempts to educate my children about the rewards and duties of visiting the cemetery, I maintain meager hope of regular visits from either of them after I am gone. With no regrets, consolations, or excuses, my husband cites statistics regarding wives living longer than their husbands and is thus exempt from such final duties. So…cremate my used-up earthly representation and scatter the remains over the sea with love, joy, and remembrance.

Until then, I will cross my fingers when passing a cemetery!

***

2014 12 15 Xmas Photos 014 (2)Jo Nell Huff retired from the administrative side of healthcare after working for United Healthcare, Prudential, Aetna, and other healthcare related organizations.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi (formally Corpus Christi State University).  Briefly she wrote for a small local newspaper.  As an outlet for her writing she started a blog, www.coastalcrone.com, in 2011 and writes about tales, trails, and connections to almost anything. She lives on the Gulf Coast of Texas with her husband.

***

About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday.  If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation. The submissions guidelines are here.