Monday, April 17, 2006

A dreaded sunny day, so I meet you at the cemetry gates

It was a superb Sunday. Cool, gently breezy. Above all, comfortable. It's not Easter for Maude, since she's Eastern Orthodox, and I guess it really wasn't Easter for me either. I doubt that the events we celebrate this week actually occurred 2000 years ago, but it didn't matter to me. It's enough that I'm alive, comfortable, and spending time with my wife (she's been working some crazy hours lately).

We decided to take a walk to a nearby graveyard. Like most New England cemeteries, it's pretty old and a little neglected. I pass it every day on my way to work and I always want to visit it, but I've never gotten around to it.

I thought that Maude would only want to walk around the edges of the cemetery, but she wanted to check out all the really old headstones, which was a lot of fun. The oldest headstones (I presume they were the oldest) were illegible, unfortunately. The marble has melted away like soggy marshmallow. There were quite a few broken and cracked headstones, too. Most of the readable grave markers dated from the mid- to late-1800s. Let that be a lesson to all you would-be Ozymandiases: You've got a little less than 200 years to be remembered.

The saddest stones, of course, were all the ones for children. They often listed the age of the child in months and years and they seemed to almost outnumber the markers for adults. It was sad to see all the illegible and broken headstones as well. I hope someone has taken pictures or copied the information before they became lost to us. On the other hand, what's the difference? Once the stone is effaced, is there anything really to hold on to? Is a scrap of paper in the local historical society really going to be anymore permanent than the marble that failed their memory?

There was an article on today's New York Times about celebrities giving their kids weird names like "Pilot Inspektor," but we discovered that women's names from the past, if anything, are even weirder. Among the names we spied on grave stones were: Electa (not Electra), Octa, Sophronia, Dianthe, Glarinda, Achsah, Azubah (there were two different Azubahs), and our personal favorite, Hepzibah. I know biblical names are coming back in fashion, but I doubt anyone is dusting off Achsah or Hepzibah. (Yes, we did have to Google them to see if the were from the Bible.)

Even more oddly, there were new graves scattered in among all these graves from the 1800s. I like this because it keeps all the old graves from being consigned to a neglected part of the cemetery, and it means that they won't be able to dig up the graveyard and turn the tract of land into a Circuit City for a long while still. As long as there are still living relatives, the graveyard still seems alive. There is nothing sadder than a dead cemetery.

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people, all those lives
Where are they now?
With loves, and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived
And then they died
It seems so unfair
I want to cry

All in all, a good day. I almost forgot that I have to go back to work tomorrow.


Susan M said...

I love old cemeteries.

a spectator said...

We have lots of these around where I live. I am a name collector, so I also love reading the stones. Many I see seem to not be visited, I assume because there are no mourners left around here, but they generally are taken care of by adjacent land owners (or maybe the cemetery is owned?). I would be happy to tend a cemetery if I ever grow up enough to buy a house.

annegb said...

I love old cemeteries, as well. I go to visit my son's grave (the cemetery is old and new) and it is a beautiful, well kept place with big trees and stand up stones and I wander and visit the graves. It's a peaceful place.

Enochville said...

Headstones are invaluable to genealogist like me. They contain a lot of info. I bet that that cemetery has been inventoried though and pictures cataloged of all the headstones.