Wednesday, August 09, 2006
I went to the cemetery today on my way to work. I probably should have been in the apartment packing but I knew that I had an important appointment to keep ... with my family.
"The gang" as my Dad so fondly called them were waiting silently beneath a brilliant cloud-swept blue sky and neatly clipped grass. Two families, close in life, still close in death. My maternal and paternal grandparents' plots are only a couple hundred yards apart. They were immigrants who settled in Philadelphia and whose children fell in love. From family stories and old photos, I can tell that the merging of the clans was filled with fun and good humor. There were picnics and haystacks and live music. These people knew how to enjoy themselves even though they were living through some pretty rough times (Depression and WWII). Yes, there were family feuds and jealousies and some sad times too. But it all seemed to play out well in the end. Here there is such a feeling of peace.
I remember coming here as a kid with my Babci (mother's mom) so we could place a blanket on the grass and have a kind of picnic at my granddad's grave. There were old-fashioned water pumps throughout the cemetery and I was always sent with glass jars or buckets to pump the water and bring it back to sprinkle the many flowers my grandmom would plant and tend at her husband's place of rest. This was a part of the grieving process.
These simple immigrants did not forget their dead. The ritual of gardening brought healing. The graves were not seen as ominous but as welcomed spots of rest for the living. There were conversation and laughter and memories shared on a blanket over the place where a loved one lay.
Years later, the cemetery decided that it was too much of a bother to maintain the flowers on the graves. Signs went up and flowers were banned. By then my grandmother already had her place next to her husband. I was glad that she didn't live to see the stark landscape that replaced the flowers of the families who mourned. Bureaucracy is so sterile and clueless.
I just know that, as a child, I never felt more alive than when running with the water lapping out of my bucket and bringing it to my grandmother sitting and smiling on her blanket. It felt like such an important task to be entrusted with.
Those childhood memories came back with a rush as I knelt and touched the cool stones today and told my folks that I would be leaving the neighborhood. I blessed them all and asked them to keep an eye out for me in my new location.
Somehow, I think they heard me.