Monday, September 13, 2021

My Dead

 These are my Dead.

Growing up, I thought that everyone had their own Dead.  It was only later I learned that in fact no, most people did not their own Dead - or at least their Dead all in one place, that they were scattered out hither and yon, a continually growing root system as people and families moved.

There are not all my Dead, of course.  They are maternal grandmother's Dead.  Gathered here are the patriarch of the family, who traveled halfway across the country chasing a dream, and his second wife (his first one went back as it was too far away) who was his business partner's daughter.  Most of their children are buried here too:  two that died from Scarlet Fever (a third died from Scarlet Fever visiting his grandparents back East, and was buried there), and the three sons and one daughter that survived (the daughter being my great grandmother).

In turn, my great grandmother had two husbands and eight children, all daughters.  She and both her husbands are buried here as well, as was her second daughter, who passed at three years old.  Finally, my grandmother - who in many ways held the closest connections here - was buried, as well as my grandfather.  The graveyard has been undisturbed since then, for almost 30 years.

The town that my great-grandfather came to thrived, and then withered away when the industry that created it could no longer be practiced.  The family lingered, continuing to chase down the dream as people left and the world moved on until the last great-uncle that lived in the family house built by hand on 10 acres died in the 1950's and the house then burned down in 1960.  Everything was lost, except for pictures and one oil chandelier than hangs at my parents' house.

But the Dead remained.

Growing up, we would come up every Memorial Day with my grandmother and grandfather and one or more of my great-aunts (the Aunties, we called them - I only ever knew direct relatives like aunts and uncles; the distinctions of familial relations escaped me until I was older).  We would rake the graves of their interlaced pine needles and oak leaves, wash down the headstones and markers, put in flowers and water, and have a picnic (an odd memory: it was the first place I ever ate Pringles potato chips).  Every year, we would go - until my grandparents and the Aunties' passed away and even my parents' generation grew too old to negotiate the hillside and not slide on the pine needles and I, who in some ways became the last one of my generation to go along, moved away.

I drove my mother up here a year ago.  We walked out to the top of the graveyard.  She did not remember ever coming here.

I went up this weekend and raked off the pine needles and oak leaves, pushing them down the hillside in anticipation of coming up later this month to inter my Aunt J on the grave of her mother (my grandmother) as my grandfather is now interred.  My uncle said he will come dig the hole for my cousin, who is 3 hours away, but it seemed meet that he not be tasked with preparing the overall site. 

Down the hill from my Dead, there were two grave markers I originally found 40 years ago.  I never found others this far down, although they must be there.  They have no one to care for them now, so that falls to me as well. One of the name plates has fallen out (I did a quite search but found nothing; I may need to return with a metal detector), but the other one still remains.

I have no idea who Sua Long Bing was, or how they came to be here.  I can see from the name plate that they passed on 04 August 1957 and their age was listed as 113; I believe memory serves that their spouse was the other nameplate.  If true, that means they died very far home and undoubtedly without anyone left to remember them.

They, too, are now my Dead.

With burial of my Aunt J, the graveyard will begin to reach the end of its lifespan.  My mother will undoubtedly be placed there someday, as will their older brother, my uncle.  But of their generation, no-one goes there now or has gone there for many years - as mentioned above, as families have spread out, the dead lay where they lived and no-one left of my mother's generation may remember it is here.  I am sure beyond my sister and my cousins, no-one in my generation remembers it is there either.  And with those two burials, it is likely that none of them will have reason to return.

It will fall to me.

I will become the Rememberer, the Old Mortality of Sir Walter's Scott's book of the same name, wandering among the gravestones, the last caretaker of four generations to do so.  It is not so much as a task given as a task unconsciously appointed. Someone has to do this, in some way to keep the dead in memory and honor.  Not that such a loss of memory will matter to them of course, or to the world at large.

It will, however, matter to me.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Mike. It has been on my mind for a while to write; yesterday was the first chance I have to visit in quite a while.

  2. You are an honourable man. And the level of honour demands the English spelling.

    I've driven all over Texas to visit the graves of my forebearers.

    1. Thank you STxAR! (And thanks for the English Spelling!).

      It really is something of a privilege. So many may only know where a single generation is buried but not more than that.

  3. then it matters to me too...

    To honour your ancestors is one of the most important tasks that fall to men. Mountain Park and Fairlawn cemeteries are about 20 miles apart. My mother's people in Mountain Park and father's in Fairlawn.
    We've travelled up the hollers and across the deserts to stop in on pieces of stone and uncut lawns visiting our people's people.

    As you said, they are gone now, yet we are not, and we have responsibilities and promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep. Thanks Robert Frost and TB.

    1. Thank you Just So.

      I am fortunate in that about 10 miles from my hometown is a graveyard with most of my father's parents generation and his brother and sister, and in my hometown is a graveyard with some others within my memory. So they are around within reach. But even with them, it is likely I will be the last to visit. People are just too spread out anymore.

  4. Very interesting mystery.

    I have always found comfort in cemeteries where things are always peaceful. I have several family cemeteries with generations of my ancestors buried in each that I stop from time to time to visit. I always come away much refreshed.

    1. It is Ed. Enough of a mystery that perhaps (someday) when I have some time to spend, I can look into it. I come from a fairly small town and I know the funeral home; the answers must be out there.

      My father's parents and my grandfather's family are relatively nearby, as are a smaller subset in my hometown. But this one is different, at least to me, because at least that small subsection of the graveyard is ours; if we had not come out, it would not be here.

  5. Anonymous12:55 PM

    This is profoundly moving, and tinged with melancholy. Thank you for a thoughtful post.

    1. Anonymous - I am glad it was of value. Thank you very much for taking the time to stop by and comment.

  6. A very elegant essay sir, and it stirs a lot of like reminiscence. It seems the deeper the roots, the more profound the memory.
    We have retired to a small country town that my wife grew up in. The sort where even a dash to the grocery store (there's only one) often means an hour or so because acquaintances must be visited with, as briefly as we would have them. I find enormous amusement, when introduced to one of the long time locals, to tell them that I may be the new kid in town, but my roots here are deeper than yours. A nearby cemetery has my mother's grandparents on her mother's side. And they are buried in her (g-g-g'parents) family plot.
    A small note that shocked me. When I visited that cemetery for the first time to try to find Great Grandpa Ted's gravesite, I found it to be not only huge (something over 500 graves) but manicured to a degree that would shame most golf courses. I don't know what sort of endowment provides that sort of maintenance, but it is impressive. I parked in front and started my search in the middle of the first row, and casually walked to the back of one side. My mother told me that his grave was in his wife's family plot, so I had two surnames to search for. I hadn't read more than half a dozen stones when his was in my face in front of me! Ted, his wife Myrtle, and her parents in a neat row. I don't place much stock in synchronicity, but I have to say it was a bit disconcerting in so large a cemetery.
    It is my regret that I did not pay more attention to my mother's genealogy research when she was around to ask questions of it. But I have her notebooks and charts, and I need to pursue the work on our family's behalf. These are small country towns in the Oregon Outback, and going back to the latter 19th century, most of these folks were wagon train people of one sort or another.

    1. Thank you Greg!

      Our story is somewhat the same, and may end up totally the same: The Ranch, where my parents lived for the last 20 years, is 15 miles up the road from our hometown where we grew up. My grandparents, parents, and my generation all went to the same high school. If things hold together for a while, we may very well have been in this state and in this area for 200 years.

      I think realizing that changes a person, if one thinks on it.

      There is something about a nicely kept graveyard that warms my heart, just as there is something about an abandoned graveyard that chills it. Even if fueled by an endowment, a well tended graveyard speaks well of the dead (my father's family are also conveniently so located as yours - I think, in there case, due to the fact that they bought all the plots as one.

      I will be honest that after yesterday's visit, I went back and re-read the genealogy books one of my distant cousins had written on the names I raked today. It was good to be reminded that they were people and, in reading some of their letters in the book, that they had the same sort of concerns and fears as we did.


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