by Anne Born
I’ve finally convinced my children that it can be both informative and restorative to visit cemeteries. Is this a major accomplishment and testimony to my superlative parenting skills? Yes, most definitely.
My daughter and I paid a brief visit to Michiana over the weekend. Michiana is that difficult area that is part Michigan and part Indiana and completely difficult to explain to New Yorkers. You fly through Chicago or Detroit and change planes to South Bend, but my family didn’t live in Indiana even though I went to high school there and my dad worked there. So, sometimes I say I’m going to Chicago: lots of people have heard of Chicago. Other times, I say I’m just going home and then try to field the questions about where exactly that is. But if you grow up in this no man’s land, you get really used to moving back and forth over the state line so often, it tends to blur. It’s Michiana and it’s where my family is.
This trip we decided — yes, we — to visit as many cemeteries as we had time. We started out at Notre Dame (pictured above) to visit the graves of my twice-great grandparents who came to South Bend in 1880 to help build the first Catholic university in America. They are both buried here in a cemetery on campus that used to be the parish graveyard.
I stepped out of the car to visit their graves, leaving the window on the driver’s side open. When I got back, there were two leaves on my seat. I took that as a sign.
The next day, we left early to find a cemetery farther south near Culver, Indiana where my 4th great grandfather and his wife are buried. This was a beautiful, very old cemetery, but it was in wonderful condition and their stones were quite beautiful. I took some photos and got back into the car and saw the trunk light “open” light was on. My daughter assured me I had somehow pushed the trunk button.She got out to close it and we drove on.
The next graveyard was in Argos, where my great grandparents and their siblings are buried. I have a twice-great grandfather who was a Union soldier; his gravestone was donated to his family by the US government. There’s a metal marker identifying him as a veteran, too. While I was standing there, a ladybug landed on the back of my jacket.
I took that as a sign, too.
Our next stop was at a nearby cemetery in Plymouth where the pioneers of my father’s family are buried. The stones are broken and very difficult to read, but I have the cemetery records and can identify the occupants of each of the plots in the farthest and oldest section. When I visited this site a few years ago, the cemetery officer who took my phone call was kind enough to post bike flags on the graves, so we could know which were our family’s graves. He also took and sent me photos, which was a tremendous kindness.
When I got back in the car, again the trunk light came on again and again my daughter closed it, reminding me not to hit the trunk button. We went into town to shop a bit and get lunch. We found ourselves in the midst of the annual Halloween parade, with kids and grownups alike in costume. It was wonderful –- not at all scary. Just wonderful.
The next day, we stopped at the cemetery where my mother is buried and laid small stones on her grave to let people know someone had been there, someone cared. I found the grave of one of my best friends, who died in the 8th grade, and placed a stone there as well. It seemed the thing to do.
It was only on our way out of town, back to the airport, that I needed actually to open the trunk to put something inside. To get into the trunk -– and trigger that warning light -– I had to pull up hard on a lever near the bottom of the driver’s side door. This action released the lid so you could get things in and out. It’s not a button you could graze with your jacket. It’s a handle. You pull it back until you hear the trunk lid pop open.
I think I have to take that as a sign too. Creepy? Oh yeah. But wonderful? Most definitely. The spirits are with us these days.
Originally published on The Backpack Press: Writing about New York and Everywhere Else on October 29, 2014.
Anne’s previous Death’s Garden contribution was called Toasting a Ghost in Northern Ireland.
Anne 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.
Anne’s bookstore: http://astore.amazon.com/thebacpre-20
Contact info: http://about.me/anneborn
Check out her podcast on Our Salon Radio: Born in the Bronx.
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.