Mountains and Molehills: A Vacation Diary
Part III: Cemetery Gates
[Excerpts (and additions) from the (handwritten!) diary I kept on vacation. All links to go photos taken on said vacation. This will probably be five or six parts, so if you're not interested you might want to skip the next 24 hours or so around here. Part 1 here, part II here.]
The Roscoe Cemetery is located on a steep hill. You have to literally drive off the beaten path to get there; a gravel road that traverses over a single lane bridge takes you up a winding path to a parking area. There's a newer section of the cemetery, with fresh graves, smooth headstones that shine like glass, replete with mementos lined up like museum displays.. We walk to the other side of the cemetery, the part that rolls up and down with the terrain, where the birth dates are in the 1800s, the graves are laid out haphazardly and the headstones are splayed out like loose, crooked teeth.
I try to walk between the graves, to show some respect to the dead by not stepping on their burial place, but this cemetery is laid out so that's impossible and I nearly tiptoe across the grass, as if my footsteps would disturb the endless sleep of the dead.
There are simple stones carved with just names and dates. I stare at these stones, finger the letters carved within and wonder about Louisa and Elizabeth- who were they, how did they die, where they mothers, wives? Perhaps Louisa was poor, which is why her headstone is so plain, so non descriptive, unlike the Cages, whose burial place is adorned with a tree carved from stone, sitting among the simpler headstones like a welcome sign to a summer retreat. I try to clear some moss off of Russell's grave and I find myself saying out loud, though in a whisper "was that your first or last name?" The moss is embedded in the letters and tell Russell I'm sorry I couldn't fix his bed up for him.
Many of the graves are those of children, babies and teenagers who died in a time when it was common to lose a child. Still, that doesn't make it any easier to read the dates on a headstone and realize that below the ground lies the remains of an infant who never saw her first birthday, or a mother buried alongside her five year old son.
There are monuments and statues among the tumbled stones and flat, simple plates. Angels and chess pieces and the Cage tree stand tall, if a little tilted, like sentries overlooking the highway below.
The quiet is overwhelming. Even with the rush of a few cars and trucks below and the distant sound of water rushing over rocks, the quiet within the cemetery is heavy and reverent. Even a whispered "look at this one!" seems out of place and disrespectful. We trod back up the hill again, wending our way around William and Marinda, past the part where the ground sinks and rises, behind a thoughtful Jesus, pondering the mountain range, back to our car and the living, leaving behind that feeling of complete peace I always feel within cemetery gates.
I think about the cemetery now, hours later, sitting once again cross legged on the bed, staring out the window at mountains and lush trees and ducks moving slowly across the lake. I think I've change my mind about being cremated. I think about the relatives of Mildred, who still take care of her grave and bring her flowers and have a place to go to talk to her. I think of my own grandmother (also Mildred) and grandfather, lying next to each other in Holy Rood Cemetery and how, every time I drive down Old Country Road, past the cemetery, I wave to them, silly as that may seem. It gives me peace to know they, in some small way, still exist. When I go to their graves and see fresh flowers and plants and mementos of love, I know that people still think of them. They are here, in a way. Would I deny my own children or the rest of my family that just because I have a fear of being buried? I'll be dead. What difference would it make to me then? None. So if my family wants a place to talk to me after I'm gone, to feel like they are visiting me, I can give that to them, I suppose. I just hope they don't come too often. I like my alone time.