Saturday, September 10, 2011

If I Leave Here Tomorrow, Will You Still Remember Me?

My fingers are tender from carving back the sod threatening to envelope the lonely headstones. I have recently begun a real search for family history, spurred on by the deaths of the last remaining aunts and uncles. I started asking questions in the past but, when faced with ambiguity, gave up the push. Now loss of information looms and the lack, if left to it's own devises, may be the victor.
In my quest, I was led to Find-A-Grave, a website where cemeteries are surveyed and headstones photographed. As I began to search for the headstones of my relatives, I found an opportunity to post photos I had taken, and to volunteer to take photos of headstones of people in our local graveyards for family members living too far away to do it themselves. There are a few of us around here and everyone seems to have cemeteries with which they have become familiar so I held back from "claiming" requests for awhile, deferring to the experts, but when I saw no one taking up the challenge of Myrtle Grove, I made it mine.

Now, me and Myrtle have become friends and I have found it to be my favorite City park. Most weekends, I spend a few hours meandering the rows. Generally I'm looking for a specific grave as per a relative's request but often I wander aimlessly, taking note of the names. There are so many Stewarts and Fosters, McCanns and Hills. And because this was one of the original burial grounds for the area, there are Vances and Carsons and, of course, Buhne. Herrick. Glatt. Cousins. Everding. Albee.

Myrtle Grove was created in 1860 by a group of citizens. In 1958, the stones were surveyed and collected, the family plots cleared and previously upright monuments laid down for ease of mowing. That sounds so wrong, doesn't it? Rearranging the final resting places and beautiful monuments for "ease of mowing"? It even appears as if some stones, with engraving on both sides, were laid horizontal...putting the birth and death dates of one person face DOWN. Shortly afterward, the land was taken over by the City of Eureka which has cared for her ever since. The lack of a groundskeeping budget leaves Myrtle the beneficiary of only occasional passes with the mower and her residents' gravemarkers sinking away in the abyss of neglect. Slowly, many of the flat stones are being enveloped by soil and sod, obscuring the intricate dates and decorations. Alice's (below) seems to be encircled with roses... As I make my way around, I have found some contentment in carving away the creeping weeds and freeing the words to identify those that lay below. My fingers are sore but it seems a small price to pay for those who lived in this area so long ago. I can't help but wonder about their families. The sons of their son's sons. Their great great great great granddaughters. Do they ever visit?

As my knife carves around the stone, attempting to identify the perimeter, the shape of each particular memorial different from the last, I sometimes scratch the surface. The blade etches clean scratches through the accumulation of decades-old grime. My initial panic at the damage done was soon overcome by the decision that these people, these pioneers and elders of the community wouldn't mind someone tidying up a bit, allowing the sun and rain to touch a little more of their headstones.


Kristabel said...

Yes! It does. What a beautiful gift you're giving people, though.

I love cemeteries and make a point to always find them when I travel. When I'm feeling really bad and want to have a good cry, I always head for a cemetery - usually the one in Ferndale. I figure no one will ever ask me why I'm crying there.

Ross Rowley said...

Beachcomber, I really applaud you for your efforts. Having family here in Humboldt County since 1881, we have burials as early as 1898. My father took me around to all of the Hydesville and Fortuna cemeteries and the newer cemeteries on Broadway in Eureka. My father made me memorize all 30 of the sites and how we are all connected. we're talking great great aunts and uncles and all. We're mostly in the Hydesville and Fortuna cemeteries. Ironically, out of our family, only I know where the sites are. My three brothers barely know. So, that makes me the keeper of the crypts. I check on the graves about every three to six months. But then, I love cemeteries. When I visit other towns, I love to go to the cemeteries. Portland and Oakland have some wonderful ones.

Like you, I have had to dig out some of the family headstones. the cut grass a the cemeteries tends to create duff that over the years will bury the markers.

Beachcomber, we invite you to come to our show Grave Matters at the Fortuna Sunrise Cemetery on October 30th this year. This theatrical presentation presents 9 different actors portraying the residents of the cemetery. You would really love it. Remind me to keep you posted.

Kristabel said...

I just realized that the words I tried to quote didn't show. Well...hopefully you know what I meant. :)

Ross...Grave Matters sounds great. I have a lot of family in that cemetery...some that have slid their way down the hill.

beachcomber said...

We were just talking about Grave Matters this morning, Ross, so please keep me in the loop.

Good idea, K...crying in a cemetery...