Listening to the Quiet Dead

Posted: November 20, 2012 in Gallery Post, Musings
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I like graveyards.  I should say, I like old graveyards.  Any graveyard over 100 years old  is a friendly thing, with the monuments and headstones telling the codas of  a lives long since finished. The thin slabs sit much higher than the newer ones, and are very difficult to mow around and keep up. There’s no room for a standing mower to zoom through and take care of the green grass growing over the plots. You have to take your time maintaining an old cemetery.

You have to slow down.

It’s the same way when you’re walking through the rows. You can’t rush, your body instinctively slows its gate as the uneven ground and leaning stones, like sleepy sentinels,  make progress tricky.  After the lunch (which was after the funeral),  I left the others still in the Little Red School House on the Vermont Technical College Campus and wandered outside with my camera. I’d glimpsed the graveyard from the upper windows of the building and wanted to go and see just how old it was.

All of its thin headstones gave me hope that it would be an older, established garden of the dead.   The sun, slanting through the trees huddled at the edges of the cemetery, drew sharp calligraphy shadows  from the markers as I wandered between the rows. I wasn’t disappointed. The first marker that caught my eye was a Celtic cross, heavily embossed with filigree, and softened with decades of wear.

The camera cut off the ‘j’ there in John, I believe,  but this imposing cross made me smile faintly. Not a lot of information on the person, all the attention is fixed on the cross. It made me wonder if that’s how they had lived too, deflecting attention to Christ and away from themselves. Maybe.

This one was a ‘joint’ tombstone. Carrie and Patrick  were born within a year of one another, made it through tremendous change in our country, and died within three years of one another.  Patrick was the younger of the pair too. I love finding little tidbits like that when I read tombstones. By my reckoning, Carrie made it to her 70’s and Patrick nearly to his 70’s.  I liked that their headstone highlighted their length of life and their belonging to one another.

There were several in the style of  this marker,  and I was a little uncertain about if this Jakob  DIED in 1801 or was BORN in RANDOLF in 1801.  It was interesting to see his home town so recorded and highlighted.  Why was it, I wonder? Was he  one of the original inhabitants of the town? Did he want to distinguish himself  from other transplants and outsiders that had come into the town later? If so, why?

This one made me grin. The lovely cross and scroll work had to cost more, but they made a very appealing ‘cap’ to the stone and set it apart from the others.  Her husband was mentioned, and the date of her death but no birth date. I was charmed both by the 96 years as well as the 10 months.   According to my math Mirriam was  born in 1775.  I stood a while with this one, just thinking about all the changes, heartaches, triumphs, and tragedies she made it through.

This was one of the most confusing grave markers in the cemetery. I couldn’t understand why  it had both of the men who had been her husbands listed on it.  Or why someone would choose to highlight the fact that she’d had two husbands.  It was a little perplexing until in my rambling I came back to her stone and then happened to look to the left, not the right of it and saw:

Lurena L. is buried not beside her second husband, but beside her first.   She lived another 22 years after she buried her husband  John Perrin and at some point, even married again taking  Walker Sandford as a spouse. And yet, she chose to be buried not beside her second husband but beside her first.  It was interesting to note that Lurena L. is also not mentioned on John Perrin’s tombstone.  I lingered here a while too, wondering if I was reading more drama in these interesting facts than there actually was.

I moved down the gentle slope leaving Lurena’s marker, weaving between the thin stone slabs that looked more and more as I walked, like collapsing dominoes. Near the fence, right past the small out building, I found a different kind of memorization all together. As far as I know, it’s the oldest one in the entire cemetery. And it made me catch my breath.

This one read: Memento Mori  In Memory of Thomas Pember,  son of Elijah and Hannah Pember, who was killed by the Indians in Rovalion  October 16th, 1780. Age 23 years  If this is accurate, Thomas Pember was born in 1757.  I don’t know if his body was interred here, or if his loving parents just bought a stone to mark his passing and had it placed here, but it is by far the oldest and saddest story I found in my wandering.

Ever taken a stroll through an older graveyard like this one? Or found stories in stone somewhere else? Let me know in the comments below. Also, anyone having any tidbits to share on the gravestones or markers (as in what style they are, what stone they are, what was the fashion of the time etc) feel free to post that as well in the comments.

  1. H. A. Titus says:

    The cemetery where my baby Matthew is buried is old–there’s a civil war soldier buried there, as well as several graves from the early 1800s. Besides that being where Justin’s youngest sister Belle was buried (she was a mere 4 years older than Matty), we chose that graveyard for our son because of the oldness and peacefulness. Justin and I have both always loved that place.
    Not far from Belle and Matty’s graves, there is a little headstone with the words “Little Stranger” on it. Everyone in the area knows the story–back in the 1800s, a family on its way to Oregon stopped in the close by town of Fair Grove. They had a baby too sick to continue on, so some townsfolk offered to take it in and care for it until the family could come back for it. The baby died–they didn’t even know its name or how old it was. I learned that story as a teenager, and have visited the cemetery many times since–each time I’ve visited the Little Stranger’s grave and cried a little for that baby, and even more so since Matthew died.
    On a lighter note, Justin’s grandparents have many relatives buried in that same cemetery, and once or twice, we’ve gone on excursions with them to locate relatives and hear their stories. Justin’s grandpa, whom we all call Ah-ha, calls it “tomb-stone kickin’ “–because Ah-ha always has to have a silly name for everything (I was for a long time affectionately known as “Justin’s growth”).
    I miss that cemetery quite a bit.

    • I’m so glad your little Matthew’s earth suit is laid to rest in such a peaceful place. I have to smile a little at the thought that he might be playing with my Uncle and my friend Ginny will certainly be delighting in him—possibly when Matthew isn’t being carried by Jesus she’ll be taking him on amazing adventures, she was a preschool teacher and love-love-loved the little ones.

      Won’t it be lovely when there are no more good-byes, only hellos?

      • H. A. Titus says:

        Oh yes, it will be lovely! The idea of him being with your Uncle and friend made me smile too. In a way, it was a comfort to know that Matty would have family–his aunt Belle–in heaven along with Jesus. We always smile and say that the two little Titus kids are probably turning angels’ hair gray. Perhaps they’re making your uncle and Ginny laugh. 🙂 I can’t wait to see them all.

      • I love to think of the little one my brother lost, like your Matthew, sliding through the throne room, giggling like mad, running straight up to Jesus and pouncing on Him with absolute abandon. Your little Matthew and his aunt too, must be having a marvelous time.

  2. Kathy Black says:

    I think this would be good material for the beginning of a short story or novel. History is fascinating and many times makes your mind wander to a really good place. Thanks for sharing.

Be brilliant, be peculiar, be peculiarly brilliant.

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