Monday, October 8, 2007

steps to heaven

I have always loved looking at old headstones in cemeteries. I think this odd interest began during a family trip to Bolton Landing, where we vacationed every summer. When I was little, I would walk through their local cemetery with my Dad. There was one elaborate grave marker that had three steps you could walk up. I remember my Dad saying those were the "steps to heaven".

On a recent trip to Maine, we visited their local cemetery. Some of the headstones were very old. We had fun finding names that we had seen around town - lobstermen, street names, etc. Some had some strange markings on them - many had a skull with angel wings. Not sure what that symbolized. I had never seen it before.

On my trip to Germany, I visited a small, local cemetery. Each plot had an elaborate garden in front of the headstone. There were always family members tending to the garden. It was the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen.

Everyday, I walk my dogs through our local cemetery. It is filled with really tall evergreen trees, and some old gravestones from the late 1800's. Over the years, I have made up lots of stories in my head about the people buried there. I think about how they may have died, especially when I see several family members dying in the same year. Was it small pox? My favorites are the ones that say how old the person was when they died. Some are very specific, 18 years, 5 months, and 4 days. I feel like I am walking through my town's history everyday. There are several headstones with the name of the road I live on. Practically my ancestors.

More than once, I have come upon a local policeman sleeping on the seat of his squad car in the cemetery. They park their car behind the storage shed, so they can't be seen unless you are on foot. Typically, the car is running with either the AC or heat on. I've been tempted to rap on the window, and ask "Hard work fighting terrorism?" I resist the urge though, as I fear waking him might startle him into pulling out a weapon on me. Better safe than sorry. Sometimes, the cop wakes up and sees me. Quickly, they come up with some reason for being there. They ask me, "Have you seen anything suspicious?" I never have, unless you consider wild turkeys and deer suspicious.

This week, during a very early morning walk, I was stunned to find that someone had knocked over some headstones in my cemetery. Some of the headstones, struck down by the vandals, were from recent burials. That didn't upset me as much as the headstones broken in the older part of the cemetery. I know family members will fix the newer headstones. But who will fix Jennie Hidley's marker? She died in 1913. I've never seen any mementos left on her grave. The whole Vanderzee family was toppled, including Eldan who was only 3 when he died in 1876, our country's centennial year and the year the cemetery opened. It made me sick to see all those gravestones knocked over like dominoes. Some of the oldest are beyond repair. How could someone destroy history like that? Where is their respect for the community, if not for the dead? And where was the sleeping cop? Here was his chance to redeem himself.

I will wait a week and see if the cemetery grounds keeper restores the markers to their upright stance. If not, I will be tending to those graves myself. Jeff thinks I should try and organize a cemetery clean up. Today, I was able to fix Attie Louisa's marker. Hers is small, but very elegant (wonder if she was too). All the other markers were too heavy for me to lift on my own.

Maybe I can enlist the local police officers to help out. They seem to have a fondness for the cemetery as well.

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