I went to the cemetery on my birthday. (As first sentences go…) It was a red cheek day in January, full sunny, a north breeze slowed by trees, speeding up once it got into the open ground of grass ‘n graves.
Dad and I used to come 3 or 4 times a year, now that he’s residential I still come, about as often.
He’s there next to Mom, been there since January of ’15. No, I don’t bring flowers, or tote along a lawn chair to sit and visit with the echo of him. I do to him like he did to his father, buried a few graves to the north, stand there, emit respect and gratitude, but knowing it’s all symbolic. The grave is like a post office box, the actual residence is elsewhere.
Cemeteries church me. All this humanity, knowns and strangers, all their years of years, ended. There I was, birthday boy, the only one vertical, thinking who-am-I, to have this gift Ever, and Still…
The red hot center of Christianity is the death of Death, where our guy, Jesus, defeats it. Easter is just a story when you’re a kid, like David and Goliath, but you start piling up some life decades, bury all your childhood VIP’s, and death starts to cast a serious shadow.
I tried to pray, couldn’t form a word. Walking works for me, so I walked. Rows and rows, the old, the very old, the new, and the ones so new that you can almost hear the heartbreak.
Walking among the graves of strangers, I see our common faith. Jules Marcenac 1857-1920, married to Adeline, his grave says, “Asleep till Jesus comes.” On another row, Zilpha Lewis, 1875-1964, “Resting til the resurrection morn.”
Headstones Are Our Shortest Obituary
There’s my great uncle Todose, died the year I was born. There’s great uncle Orase, born 1896, “Christ is my hope.” His wife, Aunt Ava, was born in 1900. Lived to age 104. “Gone home,” it says…
Name, date, dash, date, very little else. I found it honorable, and curious, that men who lived many decades as civilians, felt so greatly about their few years in the military, that it made the cut, for defining who they were. Here lies, Curtis Langley, Marines, and he’s buried near Norman Langley, Navy, Korea. A few rows away, Clarence Handley Cpl Sup Co 3 Infantry WWI.
One of my favorite headstones was of Ronald Simonds 1947-2008. “Husband, father,” and this beauty, “and the father he didn’t have to be.” Vietnam. Bronze star with valor, Purple Heart. Sounds like someone I’d like to make the acquaintance of in heaven.
They Don’t Name ‘Em Like We Used To
We make fun of parents inventing names for children these days. It seems so… but walking through a cemetery will modify your thinking.
Here’s Eula Mae, buried near Bessie Mae, a little over from Myrtle, just a row off from Verda. There’s a Domelius. Maybe that was in the Baby Name Book in 1877.
We all know the origin of last names. Shepherds were shepherds, Farmers were farmers. Since we’ve all been around since Noah, you’d think that every family would’ve been last name claimed for a 1000 years, but here we have some Cottongins, linked by occupation to Eli Whitney’s contraption of the late 1700’s.
Proving that it doesn’t take long to make a misspelling legal, side by side are Cottongins and Cottongims…
The Stuff-Left-At Graves
I’ve been coming to this cemetery a long time. I have categories. There’s the one-after-the-other headstones, the wife dies first, and the husband soon follows. Almost never the other way around.
There’s the stuff-left-at graves. There’s this one, his visitors leave cans of Busch beer. Another one, a young guy, got a feeling about this one, his friends leave behind fishing lures…
New graves have flowers. The old graves have none. Sooner or later, they all end up being old graves…
There’s a certain patina that merits respect. Nature claims. Some of these, I can read a little but not all.
Baby graves get me. There’s a Flossie Langley, born in January of 1917, died in September of 1917. I paused at hers, wondering, wondering…
I have a baby brother buried on the north side of my mother. The burial service over, my parents in the black of pain, little me stayed behind with my uncle, and some other men, to shovel cover the grave. He told me, decades later, that I picked up a tiny handful of dirt, and told the men that I wanted to help cover “my little brother.” His Adam’s apple bobbed when he told me this. It got quiet for a while.
The Wick Of Life
When I was young I thought I was owed my life. Living has changed that. Now on birthdays I feel humble, secretive, lest a fuss be made. To have Ever Been makes my heart blink. To still Remain makes my eyes moist.
Maybe that’s why I’m here, to appreciate the lit wick of life, acknowledging that the wick always reaches its end. I’m not here to be sad, but to be accurate. I feel healthy when I feel gratitude, I feel correct, when I feel humility towards the gift of life.
In my 20’s, that decade of the illusion of Being-In-Your-Prime, I gave atheism a go. In my 60’s, I cannot imagine facing death with nothing but little me, and nothing bigger.
My first funeral was a family puppy, buried in a shoe box. The stick headstone fell, the grass grew, the spot was lost. At this cemetery are graves that sink, with names you can’t read.
God seems large and Larger. Everybody buried here has a Why? for God, and in death we bring our Why?s with us, unanswered, but with hope, that God must be God, promises must be kept. Here we wait, we uneven, we imperfect, we dependent, we wait for the Make Right, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we prefer perspective over cake.
Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories in book form can be purchased at Eighty-one, 3507 Ryan, Lake Charles. More stories can be found on Eighty-one’s Facebook page. Uncle P can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.