Tag Archives: Michigan cemetery

Creeping In and Out of Cemeteries

by Anne Born

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Cedar Grove Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana. Photo provided by the author.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

Check out her podcast on Our Salon Radio: Born in the Bronx.

 

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Death's Garden001About 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.

Brian and Paul and Me in the Cemetery

Loren059by Martha J. Allard

We started hanging out in the cemetery because my mother hated Brian. Well, hate is a strong word. He made her nervous. When we couldn’t go to my house, the tradition of wine coolers in the cemetery was born. This was the summer before Brian and Paul, my two best friends, went to their separate corners of the country. Our last summer together.

My hometown is pretty stereotypical. It’s the picture people get in their minds when they imagine the Midwest. Downtown is two blocks of brick storefronts, lined with wrought iron lampposts, instead of streetlights. The cemetery is tiny, right off Main Street.

Giant pines shelter the graves. The oldest stones have no names or dates left, scoured away by decades of snow and rain. The ground under the heaviest stones has shifted, slanting them like crooked teeth.

A Civil War monument anchors the middle of the cemetery. Atop a tall granite pedestal, General Grant salutes the town’s dead. Brian and Paul and I chose the base of Grant’s pedestal as our spot, mostly because I am squeamish about drinking on a stranger’s grave. Also, the fact that the monument is out from under the canopy of trees made it relatively free of the huge amounts of bats that live in them. We realized, as soon as we took the position, that it gave the best view of the whole cemetery. As we talked, mist curled around the headstones and dark clouds rolled across the moon. It could have been a scene from any old horror movie.

It was like time slowed for us there, like maybe August would go on a week longer, so we could get everything said that needed to be said. Unfortunately, everywhere else, things turned cold right on schedule. Paul and Brian had to go.

When one of them visits, we always go back to the cemetery. We say we know that it won’t be the same, but I think we always hope it will. Brian came at the end of summer this year on a surprise visit. Neither of us was surprised at where we ended up.

Bats swooped and pinwheeled in the night sky as we talked and sipped our coolers. The sameness of the place helped us over the awkwardness of people who haven’t seen each other in way too long. We slipped into the old days quickly. For a while, it was almost like we weren’t usually separated by three thousand miles.

But I knew that you can only nurse a wine cooler for so long and this was very temporary. In the morning, Brian would be on a plane and I would be driving past an ordinary cemetery. August was slipping away again and things were still left unsaid.

This was initially published in Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries in 1994.

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Martha J. Allard is the author of Black Light, a rock’n’roll ghost story. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines like Talebones and Not One of Us. Her story “Dust” won an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 19th edition, edited by Gardner Dozois. Her story “Phase” was nominated for a British Science Fiction Award. They are both collected in the chapbook Dust and Other Stories. You can find her on her blog at marthajallard.blogspot.com.

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About the Death’s Garden project:

Death's Garden001

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 — or if you got married or did anything else unusual in one. The submissions guidelines are here.

Death’s Garden: A Message In the Grass

All photos by Patricia Merewether.

All photos by Patricia Merewether.

by Patricia Merewether

I practically ran the six blocks from my elementary school to our street. I was ten years old. Two events made it nearly impossible for me to focus on the chalkboard or Sister Grace Esther’s lessons that day. The first was that my grandmother waited for me; she’d taken a Greyhound bus from Pittsburgh all the way to our house in Detroit to spend the week with us. But the best thing was that Mom was bringing my new brother home from the hospital. I’d always wanted a brother or sister, like other kids, and now he was coming home!

I turned the corner to see Grandma, her white curls, blue housedress, and sturdy black grandma Shoes, pacing at the end of the driveway. That seemed odd, but I was so excited to see her that I ran even faster, calling “Grandma!” I ran to her so fast that I nearly knocked her over with my hug. But as I grinned up at her, her face looked strange. Her gray eyes didn’t crinkle in smile lines like they usually did and her chin was shaking. She looked so sad.

She said, “Patty, your brother died.”

“What?”

“Your Mom and Dad had to take him back to the hospital and there was something wrong with his heart. I’m so sorry.”

That’s where the memory always fades to black. I don’t remember a thing until we drove through the cemetery. I remember the little fancy houses that I later learned were mausoleums. I wondered if the man in the news, whose name sounded the same, lived in them. Then the car drove to the very back of the cemetery, where the chain-link fence was, just like ours at home. We got out of the car and walked toward a little crooked pine tree. It was about the same size as me. I wondered how such a crooked little tree could be so green and healthy looking.

At the base of the tree lay the flat, cold-looking stone with Matthew Richard Bamford and dates carved into it. The thought of my baby brother in a box under the ground proved too much for me and I ran back to the car. I met deep, painful sorrow, a feeling that rivals the cancer and other surgeries I’d have over my lifetime.

I grew up and married. My parents moved to another state. Many years later, my dad drove back to Michigan to visit. He and I went to the cemetery. I was amazed that the little crooked tree had grown taller, as had I, so the effect threw me back to that first visit.

When we looked for the stone, it was gone. How could that be? Who would take a plain, flat, simple marker from an infant’s grave?

Dad’s knees were bad. He just stared at the spot, tears rolling down his weathered cheeks. I knelt, placed my hand where it had been, and felt something hard beneath the grass.

“Dad! It’s here. The grass has just grown over it. Give me your pocketknife!”

MATTHEWSTREEI carefully cut all the way around the edges, then lifted the small green carpet of turf away and laid it aside. We stared down at the carved letters. I poured my bottle of water over it and wiped it clean with my tissues. It looked as new and fresh as that first day!

When it was time to go, I lifted the rectangle of grass to carry it to the trash. My dad said, “Patty, look!”

He pointed to the bottom of the mass of roots. The soil and water had pulled them into the carvings. There, in what looked like cursive because of the way the roots connected the letters, was a perfect copy, in reverse, of my brother’s name formed by nature and time. I felt a little chill and a presence. I looked around as if expecting to see the little boy that never was.

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patwhitehatPatricia Merewether is an artist and writer.  Her articles and short stories have appeared in magazines such as Country Folk Art, Greenprints and Western Lifestyles.  Her paintings are available on her facebook page Patsarts and on Zazzle.com.  She lives in rural Michigan with her husband, two rescue pups, and about a dozen stray cats that she feeds twice a day.

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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.

Today my brother would have been 49

Rhoads_Allen_3853The wind ruffles the leaves, making a gentle rustle that seems to echo my breath. It’s a sound so gentle it is no sound, or else it’s the sound of the sea, of the blood, of life in its inexhaustible rush from birth to grave. Ashes to ashes, leaf to earth to soil to feed the roots to swell the buds to form leaves again to capture the sun. Everything is a cycle, endlessly spinning: the earth in its orbit, the sun whirling through the galaxy, one continuous dance flowing farther and farther out from its heart and never ever finding rest.

My brother is buried here. The wind whispers through the variegated grass that has grown high in front of the stone, obscuring words I no longer need to see to feel them stabbing into my heart, a long thin prick like a knitting needle, jabbing again and again so deep that I don’t feel the path of the pain, only its terminus, the point from which it radiates out into my limbs like a heart attack, like a stoppage of breath when you choke on something that cannot be swallowed and cannot be coughed out, which much lodge inside until you die of it.

I do not want him to be dead. My daughter tells me, in a sweet plantive voice, that she wishes she knew him. She wishes he had not chosen to drink himself to death before she was implored from the oblivion that exists before birth to come and help me heal the pain in my heart.

I wish she had known him, too.

She sometimes refuses to come to this graveyard with me any more. Once she came here and gaily chased rabbits, streaks of silence through the dancing grass. Now she knows it makes me sad like nowhere else in the world. Here lies my brother, my grandmother, the only grandfather I ever knew, and the grandmother who helped raise me, alongside her husband, who was dead before my parents conceived me. And a cousin, killed in a car accident before her first birthday, though not before mine.

Many hopes lie buried here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

The tree monument in Bendle Cemetery, Michigan

The tree monument in Bendle Cemetery, Michigan

This lovely monument is one of the primary reasons I fell in love with cemeteries.  It stands in the little farming community graveyard near the farm where I grew up.  When I was a child, my parents drove by Bendle Cemetery all the time.  Finally, one summer day when we had nothing else to do, my mom brought my brother and I into the cemetery to explore.

Since then, I have been completely fascinated by the Youells family monument and visit it every chance I get.  The stone tree trunk stands more than six feet tall, topped with an open book inscribed with the names Abram and Harriet Youells.  A potted Calla lily and fern are carved against the base of the tree. Stone ivy rings the trunk.  Part of the “bark” seems to have been peeled back in order to write the family name.

Usually a tree trunk with its limbs removed signifies a family that dies out without heirs, but Abram left a son behind.  Apparently, Abram — who served in the Civil War, before coming to Michigan as a blacksmith —  was quite a storyteller.  The post about him on Findagrave is really worth reading.

The monument is tricky to photograph.  It stands in the permanent shadow of a whitecedar.  I have photos of it at every time of day, but this overcast afternoon proved to be the best.  I love the way the Fuji film makes the image so very green, almost as green as my childhood memories of Michigan.

I’ve written about Bendle a lot because it’s where my love of cemeteries began.  This post is about my grandmother’s headstone.  This one has more history of the cemetery and the area itself.