Accepting Pain & Hardship – Love of Graveyards by Bess Streeter Aldrich (Apr 2010)

Susan's Thursday morning note April 8, 2010 
Love of Graveyards by Bess Streeter Aldrich

Good morning!!!  Or, do we not say “good” when the wind makes us vocalize words we don’t want to admit we’re thinking and the temperatures are freezing again?  Well, good, because of the perfect coffee/filler combination and the scene of the cat in the laundry…those alone make the greeting worthy of print!

What is it about the springtime – the green shoots coming out of the ground, that makes me want to turn into the cemetery?  To say hi.  To tell them what’s happened since they were covered with snow last fall.  What is it about the birds beginning to fly over that makes my car want to veer that direction?  That made me yesterday speak casually to Camden as we drove by the gate, “We need to go in and see Grandpa and Grandpa.  To take them spring flowers.”  Why did that driveway not beckon me for the last 6 months, and now call my name?   Because the grass is coming alive again.  The same grass will be growing there where Camden played.  Where my mind rested.  Where I found peace.   Where I could enter scenes from the past that I wanted to remember.   Where I could make peace with what I wanted to forget.  Where I found time to notice the little details of flowers, markers, love from mothers, love from family members, pain.  Where eternity seems so real.  Where heaven is only a glance in the distance.  Where the dress I know my mother best in is only five feet under me….I like that thought.  Strange, I know.  Where I always wish I’d remembered to bring flowers before the spontaneous decision to go.  Where time doesn’t seem to make changes.  The same grass.  The same trees.  The same water pump.  The same scenes in my head of a little week old baby…a three week old…a toddler, a kindergartner that got to “drive” before school in the quiet mornings on the little roads around the tombstones.  Where Happy Meals and Blizzards were devoured after school…where a dear child wonders and lets me dream.  Where he would feel the letters on the tombstones and with pride say the letter he was learning.  Where the toddler in my mind would pick up a little red fire truck every time we went – a fire truck on a young boy’s grave that had sat there for years…that will be there when we enter again soon…the little fire truck…I always want to know the mother that laid it there.  Was it his mother?  Was it his favorite toy?  We know it will be what we search for each spring…as the snow melts off of the little tombstone marker.

Why is the cemetery one of my favorite places?  Last night I read a short story by Bess Streeter Aldrich on a discussion in a cemetery in a small town.  I thought I should save it to write for you nearer Memorial Day, but this is when the reading is fresh….so I won’t wait to write for you what I loved reading.  This is from The Collected Short Works 1920-1954.  A book that sits by my bedside for when I’m tired.  I always love these short stories…

The Outsider…This short story takes place during a Memorial Day ceremony at a small cemetery.  A woman was perturbed by the children playing and the women talking near and on the graves during the ceremony.  She was “shocked” that the setting seemed as a “picnic” rather than a serious occasion…”Please forgive me for saying it, but it seemed there was a complete lack of awe and reverence.”  Here is part of the response of the oldest woman present, “Aunt Millie.”  She begins with telling about the first little baby buried, 90 years ago…how the little quilt was pieced for him by the pioneer women…how the grand tree was the first to be above his grave…then a farmer died  and his family asked if he could lay next to the little boy…so they built a little fence to keep out the coyotes…then a woman died in childbirth and the fence was enlarged…then children died from diphtheria…a settler from tetanus…the hill got covered with more of their family members.

more people out here now than over in townBut for a long time back in those old days people brought baskets and got together for visiting near the old tree.  Then after awhile the trees they’d planted in town got big enough and nobody brought baskets out here anymore.  but I guess what you call irreverence might have got started on account of the tree and never stopped when we got a little park in town…children play around the tombstones and folks laugh and talk a lot.  But I never thought of it as lacking reverence.  I wish I could explain to you that it’s something deeper.  This reunion that people have out here – it does something to the folks who have lost their loved ones.  It’s like the ones sleeping out here still belong, are still a part of their families.  I stood by Rachel Acton just a few months ago when they brought her boy home from Korea and she said, “Aunt Millie, it’s comforting to think he can lie right where he played.”  Believe me, I do see how it must look to an outsider.  

I assure you sorrow is just as deep here and grief just as terrible.  Only there’s something here in this cemetery eases both of them.  I’ve seen people bowed with grief and then up would come some of the warm-hearted friends to visit and it would take away a little of the lonesomeness…when we laugh and talk and visit across the graves of those we loved, it’s as though the ones sleeping here are still a part of our lives, as though there wasn’t any death at all, as though life is everlasting – still unchanging, and going on.”  

The short story ends with this beautiful paragraph…Aunt Millie stood up.  The little grandson came and leaned against her.  “We must go, Dickie.”  She put her hand on the boy’s head.  “Where’s that loud toy of yours?”  “I put it there.”  The boy pointed to the grave of his baby brother.  The red-painted squawker lay inside the white syringa wreath as though it were a symbol of something warm and human connecting the noisy living with the quiet dead.

How do I follow-up such a beautiful sentence?  With the realization that time goes so quickly.  That tonight as we lay in bed and go over our day we will write our epitaph for the day’s events…for our thoughts, our goals, our actions, our moments.  We are the only ones to determine how we respond to what comes to us today.  Will we look into the eyes of those we meet with kindness, not knowing their burdens?  Will we look up to the hills or drop to our knees if presented with what we don’t know if we can bear?   Will we keep this thought in our minds, through all of our moments of time flying with the winds we can’t stop, Be still and know that I am God?  Will we keep all in an eternal perspective – the perspective that all is okay.  That we cannot see the top of the quilt – only the disorganization of the threads underneath?  Will we take the time to look into our children’s eyes – to notice what they are loving, doing, reading, thinking… to give them our undivided attention, even if only for a few moments?  What will our epitaph tonight read for the moments we can’t get back today?   

Go, take on your day.  Make the minutes worth living.  Be still.   Sitting at the cemetery – looking at all of the lives, the generations, the coming and going, the insignificance of the details that seem so large to us daily, seeing the perspective and trying to sort out what will make a difference, what is worth our efforts?  Are we keeping the perspective of our lives here being only a small time period of the creation of our soul?  Are we “stepping heavenward” – living our lives in prayer so that if we do die soon we will not find the step into God’s physical presence very far, for we are living in his presence now?  Thank you for letting me enter your world again this Thursday morning.  Thank you for your constant encouragement for our business.  I thank you, even if I wasn’t working if you were able to come in, I noticed, and I thanked you in my mind!  Susan

Latin for this week:

infinitas infinitio - eternity, infinity, endlessness.
ad perpetuam memoriam – to the perpetual memory

Interesting definitions (grin)

coimetrophiliac, koimetrophiliac
    1. Someone who likes to visit cemeteries to see the various tombstones, sarcophagi, etc.
   2. Anyone who has a special fondness or attraction to cemeteries where he or she may see the various graves, tombstones, sarcophagi, and related items.

coimetrophobia, koimetrophobia
    An excessive, or abnormal, fear of cemeteries. Those who fear cemeteries usually are also afraid of going to funerals, looking at tombstones or dead bodies, and just hearing about funerals.
    Some people will drive long distances out of their way to avoid going by a cemetery or walk on the other side of the street to avoid being close to one.

Works Cited:

Aldrich, Bess Streeter.  The Collected Short Works 1920-1954.  Lincoln.  University of Nebraska Press.  1999.