Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cemetary Solitude

    Of late, my favorite place for the evening dog walk has been the Zion Memorial Cemetary, established in 1886. It is a large tract of land, crossed by half a dozen asphalt lanes lined with gnarled old Ash trees. The dogs and I have been walking there nearly all summer, choosing it partially for the well tended green grass and shade trees. It is an attractive place, one end has a stand of old growth Doug Fir that were probably young trees when the first bodies were laid to rest. There are names that I see and recognize, names that have long connections with this area. Family plots that bear the same names as local businesses, roads, parks and praries. The connection between the past and the present, our history and our future.
    Some may think it a morbid, or gruesome place for my evening constitutional. Maybe. But for me it is peaceful, quiet and calming. The rare glimpse we get of another human rarely results in any kind of interplay. Most people visiting a cemetary are there for solitude, grieving, healing and peace, not for chatting up the strange looking woman with the rumpled hat and a handful of leashes restraining slobberingly friendly dogs. I still vividly remember the first person I saw at the cemetary. He was an elderly man carefully tending a gravesite. Even from a distance I could see his gentle, caring cleanup. I steered clear, not wanting to invade his loving visit with who I imagined to be his beloved wife. And in all honesty, he was so involved with his task that I am sure he never even noticed us.
    There are several graves I have developed an attraction to, a bond, an interest, a desire to know their stories. There are the graves of Edna and Tess. Born months apart in 1914. Edna was a respectable 89 years old, Tess 79 when they passed. The grave lists a single last name, implying spinster sisters. What first drew my eyes to their headstone were the items imbedded in the concrete: a wrench and a Ford logo. Not your typical girly symbols. These "Sisters," were they maybe not quite what they presented to the world? Maybe not "spinsters" but a devoted, loving couple? They obviously were more than a couple of old ladies at home baking cookies. I imagine them as two women who lived life their own way, independent and strong.
    Another "friend" is Raymond. Raymond was barely 20 years old when he died in February of 1945, a U.S. Marine fighting in WW2. I think of him, so young, dying in a strange land fighting for our freedom and for the freedoms of people totally foriegn to him. He made the ultimate sacrifice. I visit Raymond almost every day.
    The first graves that caught my eye, drew me in and captured my heart were "The Babies." That is how I think of them. Siblings. A little boy, not yet 2 and a newborn infant that was never even given a name. They both died in the late winter of 1917, months apart. The tragedy of losing two children in such a short time would be unbearable. The Babies graves are a bit overgrown, I plan on visiting them alone one day soon, and pulling the tall grasses that grow around the thin, lichen coated tombstones.
    Today, for the first time, I found a grave decorated with a dozen Hot Wheels cars. Of course I had to look. I found myself weeping over the loss of a 4 year old boy, "beloved son," who died so, so young. It seemed that so many of the graves I saw were of children and teenagers. 4 years, 15 years, 17 years old. Too young to die, and too tragic for me to not feel a heart wrenching pain for them and the ones they left behind to grieve. The grey skies, and shortened daylight only seemed to add to a sadness that I feared would overwhelm me, leaving me disfunctional for the rest of the weekend. I know there are children buried in every cemetary. The Babies are a daily reminder to me. But it doesn't make it less of a tragedy.
    I had to pull myself from the gloom that threatened. I continued walking, tears stinging my eyes, when I found myself at a familiar grave stone: Tess and Edna. Seeing their familiar names, the wrench and Ford logo, knowing that they lived long, and I like to imagine interesting and fulfilling lives, gave me strength. And cheered my heart. I have decided to research just who these women were, maybe find out who puts the flowers on their graves, and find the meaning behind the wrench and Ford logo. I want to learn about Raymond as well, and several other residents at Zion. Who knows what I will find. Who knows who I will meet.

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