It is among my earliest memories. I am with my Irish grandmother in a graveyard somewhere in Philadelphia.
She and a few other white-haired women are cleaning up the dead flowers and broken flowerpots around the graves. She shows me how to carefully pick up the broken pieces of terracotta that are in the grass in front of the headstones and bring them to her.
I was a rambunctious child and my grandmother reminds me not to run over the graves; it’s disrespectful to the dead who are buried there. But she lets me explore while she and the other women attend to their task.
The headstones are beautiful — white, grey, pink -– some matte, chalky and worn, some highly polished and new. I remember stretching to touch the top of a rounded white gravestone that is taller than I am. I remember pressing my hands and forearms on a shiny, pink marble marker. It’s a hot summer day, and the stone feels good on my skin.
After the cleanup, I help my grandmother place new terracotta pots with red geraniums near some of the headstones.
I remember this park better than I remember the playground across the street from our house.
I was four years old, and falling in love with my first cemetery.
• • •
I’ve always been attracted to cemeteries for all they can offer; art, craftsmanship, history, tranquility and occasionally the disquieting feeling that you aren’t alone. I’ve been known to wander off on a day trip to read gravestones if I happen to come upon an unexpected cemetery. Honestly, I’d rather do that than walk in and out of the little carbon-copy shops that seem to be the rule in all day trip locations.
Gravestones can tell a family story or raise unanswered questions. I don’t know why I waited this long to blog about something I find so fascinating, but I’m hoping the commitment will lead to some interesting ventures.
Although I grew up in Philadelphia, for the past ten years I’ve called Delaware home. The state contains a hidden wealth of cultural riches, among them, some very interesting and beautiful cemeteries.
On this blog, I plan to focus mostly on New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties. I expect that I may visit some other places outside of the First State in my travels, like my hometown, on nearby Maryland. And of course, any vacation of mine would not be complete without stopping to visit the dead.
I’d love to hear from you. Please comment or email, and share your suggestions for an interesting cemetery to visit, a historical fact, or your own cemetery experiences.
More fun tomorrow,
— Ginger Stout