My family does not have a well-established tradition when it comes to cemeteries. This differs from my wife’s side of the family – Japanese are really into the honoring of ancestors – they have traditions squared when it comes to the departed.
I have two family-related cemetery memories. Years ago my sister Carol shared with me a shocking photograph of our Grandmother Burr (my mom’s mother). My memory of my grandmother was of a very proper ancient woman whose hair was permanently configured into a grey bun. She was grandmother-friendly, but she had been a schoolteacher for about seventy years and even as a little boy I knew she was a serious person.
The photograph my sister showed me was of a teenage girl, with flowing dark hair smiling provocatively as she leaned against the Burr family gravestone. Carol claimed that was our grandmother at sixteen. I had my doubts, but it was a really cool photo.
My other memory is from when I attended the funeral of my Aunt Beulah a few years ago. When they had buried her husband Walter in 1956 in the family plot, they must have decided they could save some money by adding Beulah’s name to the gravestone, giving her birth date and then her death as 19_ _. But Beulah lived well into the 21st century and we all had a good laugh at that cost saving measure.
I am in Skaneateles for the week – we flew out here to attend my 45th high school reunion and to visit my mom. The bed and breakfast where we are staying on this trip is just a couple blocks from the cemetery where my dad is buried. I had not been to the gravesite since the funeral, but with typical male confidence I was certain I could find his grave.
The cemetery was larger than I remembered and it turns out that a lot of gravestones look alike. I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t even sure what year my dad died. Some days it feels like he has been gone just a year or two and other times it seems much longer. My guess was five years and I started walking through a section where most of the deaths were in the 2006 to 2008 range.
I finally decided this was one of those situations where it was okay to ask for directions so I called my sister Kendra who lives in town. She didn’t answer. I hung up the phone and started to walk down the hill and out of the cemetery when I spotted Dad’s monument.
My dad had a good life – grew up on a farm, serve his country as a pilot in World War II, had a good marriage, raised four remarkable children. He always told me he wanted to live his three score and ten so he exceeded his own goal by twenty one years.
According to his gravestone Dad died on October 5, 2008 – six years and one day ago. If I had visited yesterday it would have made for a better story. But I’m glad I visited today. This was a perfect fall day: bright blue sky, the air cool, but the sun warm, the leaves still on the trees, and just starting to turn orange and red and yellow.
It was the kind of day that makes you glad to be alive.