There is nothing lonely about a cemetery
Especially Memorial Day weekend, there is nothing lonely about a cemetery. In fact, I anticipate traffic jams when I go today to fill the urns. We fill the family urns in the Silver Creek and Forestville cemeteries. We don’t worry about the old ones, the cemeteries in Cattaraugus County, or the really old ones, in Topsfield Massachusetts.
We don’t worry, but the rain around here has everyone worried about the state of the cemeteries. There has not been a full day without rain, a day when you don’t sink into the earth with your tractor or lawn mower. Our back yards and front yards are aquaponic grass, lush, green and 6 inches higher each morning.
The young man who mows the cemeteries in Forestville, the old Pioneer Cemetery and the Prospect Cemetery, doesn’t know how he is going to do it this year. I have seen him mow his own place in the dark. The cemeteries aren’t so easy to mow, though, especially the old parts. There are flowers in the ground and urns. And old stones. Old cedars. The President of the Cemetery Association has told him not to worry. He has spent enough years to know that you bump up against impossibility sometimes. But I think it was a comfort to him to be the one counseling acceptance of reality, not the one flailing against it.
Cemeteries are a recreational activity. We walk there, we picnic there, we plant there. We visit the neighbors there. The teachers, the shop owners, the farmers, the neighbors, are all there. Walking by the rows is like walking up town! Well, the neighbors do not answer back when we say hi.
My folks are buried by their best friends and under an obelisk on a hill. My sisters and I and our husbands have our birth dates and names on the obelisk too. Cemeteries have their little jokes. Of course they don’t have our death dates! The place designated for us is at the edge of the hill. I imagine a wild ride in my coffin careening down the hill like a toboggan ride.
We imagine the continued conversations of the cemetery inhabitants, residents. Technically they aren’t there. We all know that. But we visit their graves and talk to them and imagine them talking to each other. But then we have to wonder — the man over there, buried between his 2 wives, how is that working out? Or the couple who couldn’t stand each other in life, buried next to each other in death?
Cemeteries turn out to be quiet places. Grief under grass. (Very high grass this year.) Stones gone wild. We humans have been marking graves with stone for a long time. Stone is more durable than a body. We can scratch it and see what we wrote. We can visit it and see a name. I suppose we could get together and bring up the Facebook page of a recently departed friend, and conjure up a similar sense of life and eternity. Maybe.
We went to a funeral of a remarkable woman, Sister Etta, when we lived in Chester County Pennsylvania. Sister Etta sang, unaccompanied. That was her Call. She had a radio station where she sang, and a television station too. The language of the service was straight from Revelation, King James Version of course. Merv should have read up on this book, Revelation, that is, before he went on the show. “Brother Merv” Sister Etta said to him on live tv in the middle of the service, “Lead us to the throne of glory!” He looked around wildly. Nothing remotely like a throne showed itself on the stage set. He looked at me, at the choir, at the organist. No clue. So he prayed. Out loud. Right decision.
It wasn’t just Sister Etta that was remarkable. Her funeral was remarkable. The huge sanctuary of the Second Baptist Church was filled to the brim. Every minister who had ever been on her shows was there with elders and deacons and choirs. They had all dreaded being on her shows. They would hide in alleys, they would slink low in diners behind newspapers to avoid being tapped to be on her show. No pleading ever worked for Sister Etta. And no refusing. She ruled. And if you donated money anonymously, she publicly on her radio show dedicated songs to you.
Sister Etta didn’t have family except, of course, we were all brother and sister to her. Thousands of her brothers and sisters lined the walls of the church. They shoved themselves into the pews. No organist played the huge pipe organ at the front of the church. there was no choir. Actually there were hundreds of choirs, but none official to the occasion. Instead, over the loud speakers, came Sister Etta’s powerful voice, singing rich old hymns as if she were standing right there in the front of the church. It unnerved all of us.
We have a couple of old grave stones here behind the house, no bodies, just the stones. We have no idea why the stones are here. The bodies are in the Sheridan Cemetery under different stones. Merv and friends put the stones up. One of them says Freelove Slocum. I love that name. How do you conduct the relationships of your life when that is your name? At least affectionately, I hope.
It is really raining hard now. Any flowers we put in the urns won’t be planted. They will be floated. Aquaponic urns and jokes at the edge of eternity.
I will make some oatmeal in honor of my Grandma, but I will cut a pear in it which she never would have abided.
Bring 2 cups water to a boil, and cut a pear in chunks into it. Sprinkle 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats into it, and stir it in. When it has begun to thicken, cover it and turn off the heat. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, then serve it in wide bowls, sprinkled with walnuts, and covered with yogurt and maple syrup.