I love walking in the cemetery in the early morning. You know, before anyone wakes up.
Sorry, just some dumb cemetery humor.
In all seriousness, I do love walking in the cemetery near me. I love the hilly, rolling landscape that folds in and around itself. I love the towering catalpa trees in summer and the flowering cherries in spring. I love the way the gravestones tell us snippets about the dead, and i love the names: Olive, Nehemimah, Nelly.
And in a bittersweet way, I love that I know people who are buried there, and that the cemetery is really just another extension of the village, the ultimate downsizing, if you will.
I was not raised in a family that visited or decorated the graves of our ancestors – most of whom were buried thousands of miles away. My own parents are buried in a distant city and I have only been back to the site once or twice in 30 years. So when I first moved to town, the cemetery was just a cemetery.
And then it snowed. C’mon the neighbors said, let’s go sledding. In the cemetery.
Thirty years or so ago, the cemetery’s back hill was the perfect sliding spot – a plunge, a bit of a level landing and then another plunge - perfect for the speed demons who wanted to get a little height on that second descent but manageable for all ages. On a snow day, half the village would be on thet hill, armed with saucers and toboggans or even a pair of skis. Kids thought nothing of dragging their sleds back up the hill past gravestone sentries. To their credit, the cemetery trustees never stopped it until they needed the space for burials.
I suspect people had been sledding there for generations. In the 19th century, cemeteries were popular parks where the living went to stroll and picnic among the dead. At one point I might have thought that macabre. Now, I get it.
When I walk through the cemetery, it’s not only beautiful, it’s old home week. My friend Ed is over there, next to his son, beneath a stone fashioned like a 19th-century slate. Carol is just off the curving path, her grave marked by a simple wooden cross. Bob overlooks the sledding hill where his son learned to snowboard. My in-laws and husband are on the hill overlooking the pond.
Sometimes I march through quickly, on a mission to outrun any grief that might be lingering; other days I mosey through, enjoying the landscape and the quiet. There might be someone tending a grave, but there’s just as likely to be someone else jogging or walking or taking the shortcut with their dog to the conservation trails.
So I often run into friends – meaning the ones who are still alive – and we’ll stand and chat a moment. In the cemetery. Because it’s really just another corner of the village.