Personally, I think cemeteries are a magical hotbed of writing inspiration; a place where history simmers with hints of mystery, loss and love.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love cemeteries. Even before I could read, I would walk among the headstones and imagine the stories behind the dates and images engraved in granite. And why, you may ask, was a child too young to read wandering around the final resting places of complete strangers?
Every Memorial Day weekend, my grandfather would load gardening tools into the trunk of his rusted, blue Maverick and carefully arrange flats of geraniums and petunias on the back seat. Granny and I would join him in the front seat (no pesky seat belts or car seats back in those days) and off we’d go, to the magical stone gardens. This was our annual pilgrimage to decorate the graves.
It was tough work breaking up the winter-packed earth, hauling water from the pumps (that always seemed so far away) and trimming the gnarly branches of two arborvitae planted on either side of my grandmother’s parents’ single headstone. Most of the time I was allowed to just wander around among the memorial sculptures making up my own stories, but part of the time I would sit and listen to my grandparents’ stories. Ancestors who had punched out their cosmic time ticket before I was born–great grandparents, great great aunts and uncles, distant cousins and even a few family friends–they all became familiar to me through the colorful memories Granny and Gramps would share as they labored over the graves.
My grandparents took the duty of tending graves very seriously. When Grandpa passed away, the duty was passed on to my mother and her sisters, who promised to continue the tradition faithfully every year. I’ve always found it strange and rather sad that Granny and Gramps chose to be buried in the modern, tidy, and (to my mind) bland and featureless “Memorial Gardens.” On their flat grave marker, you just pull a bronze vase out of a hidden compartment and pop in a bouquet of fake flowers. Perhaps they just wanted to make the Memorial Day ritual a bit easier on their own children.
Which is quite thoughtful, really. Because NOBODY enjoyed the actual WORK involved in decorating the graves. That said, we all share an appreciation for those old cemeteries.
So, when I arrived on Edisto Island last Saturday to join my family (Mom, my two aunts & one uncle) for a nice little mini-vacation on the beach and announced I wanted to spend a large chunk of our Sunday in the old graveyards, they enthusiastically agreed. Now let me explain that we were staying in a second floor condo on the absolutely, positively most beautiful point of Edisto Beach where dolphins jump and frolic so close you can almost reach out and touch their slippery cuteness. And yet, my family instantly agreed to leave this idyllic vacation spot to wander around old graveyards, tip-toeing carefully around fire ant mounds and swatting away swarms of no-see-ums. My family is GOOD PEOPLE!
Together, we got teary-eyed over infant graves (A moment in my arms, forever in my heart), laughed with Miss Weesie Fickling (A laugh is the shortest distance between two people), and saluted Mr. D. Karl Montgomery’s view of eternal life (To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die).
We met a teenaged goth girl armed with sparkling, avid eyes and a notebook who told me, “It’s nice to meet someone who likes to visit the cemetery and read the stones. I thought I was pretty weird.”
(It took colossal restraint not to hug her bony little self and chant, “No, no, no! You are perfect and wonderful just as you are little Mini Me and we weirdos, we shall inherit the earth and the sky and a whole universe of possibilities!“)
After our cemetery adventure, we visited the Edisto Island Bookstore (Note to self: When I am a published author, I am going to spend so much freaking time in small, independent bookstores!) where I joyously re-discovered a novel I’ve been trying to find for over a year. (One of those cases where I picked it up in another bookstore, told myself I didn’t need any more distracting novels to read right then, promised myself I’d remember the title and buy it later….then promptly forgot everything except the picture on the cover.)
BTW – If you enjoy a creepy little ghost mystery set in the South, I highly recommend The House on Tradd Street by Karen White.
And so we headed back to the condo with spectacular beach views where I ended the day enjoying my family, the frolicking dolphins, a mesmerizing novel, a glass of Zinfandel and a breathtaking ocean sunset:
Pretty much a perfect day!