As part of my fibromyalgia maintence I try to take short walks a few times a week–twenty, twenty-five minutes at the most. Sometimes I try to keep a brisk pace, sometimes I just do what I can. Because of the ridiculous heat wave we’ve been having we go out just at sunset. That combined with the fact that we walk by two different cemeteries has probably lead to this reflection–
There are two cemeteries on my mind; two cemeteries near our neighborhood that we pass by when we take our walks. One we call the new cemetery and one we call the old cemetery. The new cemetery has a mix of old and new graves; just last year they buried my niece’s young friend Monique there, but there are also graves from the twenties and thirties. This cemetery is well-maintained. It has three or four different types of evergreens that are tall and thick and give the cemetery a cool, dark air even in the hottest hours of the day. This cemetery has grass that is regularly watered and mown and occasionally you’ll see piles of branches and guys in jeans doing work. In this cemetery live white-tailed rabbits. Birds chirp and hop across the gravel paths. People still visit the graves and put up fake flowers, pinwheels, pictures and plaques. Some of the graves of babies have toys. One time we saw a Route 44 Sonic foam cup leaning against a gravestone and debated whether it was an intentional tribute or not. We have a friend who would like it if you left a Route 44 Diet Coke on his grave.
One of the stones in the new cemetery is in memory of Captain Albert Fountain and his son, Henry. This is not a grave because their bodies were never found. On February 1, 1896 they disappeared near White Sands on the way back from Lincoln. Two spots of blood, a wagon, the child’s handkerchief, some papers, and empty cartridge cases are what they found. I never knew that story until I happened to glimpse the stone as I walked past the cemetery. The stone was too intriguing to just pass by; I had to look up the story. Someone put a fake flower next to the stone recently. I wonder if it was because he was a veteran or if it was a relative. Some of the other names I recognize; the big names in the history of the town. Names on buildings and street signs, packages and envelopes. I’ll bet I could look their stories up, too. Somewhere their stores would be told. But other names I don’t know… Marion Elton Milburn, 1932-1935. I try to imagine his story (her story?) and what this place was like when he lived and all I can see is dust. His mother wore a limp brown dress and his father couldn’t make it to the cemetery on the day he was buried. Briefly, I can’t help it, I think of what is left of him. It’s a little strange to think of a cemetery as a vibrant place, but this one is. It’s full of people and stories. It’s the type of place where you’d want your grave to be.
The other cemetery is older and sadder, at least to me. No grass or trees. Untrimmed clumps of cactus and weeds as big as the bushes you’d keep in your front yard. Cracked gravestones. Some plots are just stone outlines with no stone. Some stones are worn away. We found a Santa figure near the gravestone of a baby–Reed–who died in 1935 (I assume it was a baby because 1935 is the only year on the stone). I wonder who put it there and somehow I imagine it wasn’t someone who knew the child. One white gravestone is all in pieces and hard to read. I imagine that it is intentionally done this way because it’s too sad to think otherwise. When we walk by this cemetery I always notice the gravestone of Mina Engleright, 1835-1917. She has been in her grave for almost 100 years. I’m not afraid of cemeteries or dead bodies, but that fact makes me shudder a little. Her stone is much more recent than anything that could have been put up in 1917 so I wonder how much maintenance this cemetery gets. I don’t think it’s enough. I’m struck by her name. I imagine her growing up in tall dark forests and having a difficult first few years here. But then she grew old and put her silver hair into a bun. She got pince-nez glasses and learned to frown imposingly. She made you sit up straight and be quiet and she had no sympathy for you if you felt faint in the heat. I imagine she wouldn’t be happy to see where she’s ended up. I can feel her disapproval coming all the way from 100 years ago and really I can’t blame her. I wouldn’t want to end up in a cemetery overrun with cactus, even if I ever finally get used to the desert.