Friday, January 27, 2012

Grave Matters

 On a foggy, misty winter's day, I often enjoy a walk at the cemetery. The place was made for silent contemplation. I love reading the inscriptions of the stones, the text further muted by the rain, washing the carving out to a uniform black on the oldest stones.

 There are two cemeteries, back to back, just north of Pinehaven. Less than two miles away, William and Susanna Sholly, the original owners (builders, actually) of this house lie quiet at Holp Cemetery. The house passed to their grandson, Orville Shell, in 1929. The property transfer came six months before the stock market crash and the start of the Depression. I wonder if he was happy to have it? He kept it a dozen years.

 Here I am near the north edge of the cemetery, looking south. Those dark tombstones stick up out of the ground like stumps. In the distance, pines divide the cemetery nearly in half.The southern section was first used and is full. Where I stand the graves are sparse and mostly new. These are mostly my contemporaries at my feet.

Across Chicken Bristle Road stands Slifer's Presbyterian Church and to its rear and south, the Slifer's Cemetery stands. These graves are among the oldest I know, well back into the early days of the 19th century. Most of the stones are single, thin vertical slabs of sandstone, many worn by the weather, automatically erasing themselves with each new storm through the eons.

 How black these old stones become in the rain! Gray in dry weather, they immediately darken when wet. Over the years - two centuries in many cases - the stones have begun to lean, half the time throwing their engraved face to the sky. Like the inhabitants below, they are disappearing from our memory. They were; that is the best we can say.

 The largest, most elaborate memorials, stand the least. It would seem each generation of young people target the cemeteries for their pranks and the larger the stone, the more magnificent the tombstone, the more targeted it becomes. While the smallest stones still stand - and those placed level with the ground, while erased by the weather or overgrown with grass, remain intact - the tallest obelisks invariably lie on their sides, else thrown up against neighboring stones.

Because of their incredible weight, they will not soon be righted.

If there is a lesson here it is this: let your life be your memorial. Nothing else will stand the test of time.

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