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Mack Williams: Cemetery return


Mack Williams


Recently, friend, genealogy and cemetery enthusiast Rita and I were  back in the cemetery again, different from “Back in the saddle again,” as that involves sitting. We walked, while those below, “reclined.”

The subject cemetery was Salisbury’s “Chestnut Hill,” where we had been before, unsuccessfully  looking for my Uncle Lamont Hamlet’s grave. All of these attempts were made on Sundays, so I guess we should come down to Salisbury on a weekday, when the person working in the “records house” is “on the clock.” It could be said that on Sundays, the cemetery-records worker and her cataloged dead are both “off the clock”( in different ways).

One thing which especially stood for me this time, was the “Appian Way-looking,” granite-stone walkway leading down to that granite records house, (resembling a “livable mausoleum,” with steps and limited parking). Some of walkway stones are slightly higher than others, but since no graves lie beneath it, we can rest assured that it is only the seasonal differences in temperature (“frost-heaving,”etc.) accounting for some of these stones appearing to be “pushed up,” or more frighteningly, “pulled down”).

Shortly into our cemetery walk, Rita became worried that we could no longer see our car (after all, it was a rental) on account of the monuments, mausolea, and a gentle hill. Getting our bearings again (difficult in a “metropolis” like Chestnut Hill, especially for the living), we reversed our path back to where we once again saw the bright blue car’s top, standing out against all that “gray” (and “Balfour pink”).

Our car had temporarily become as static as all of the cemetery’s “tabletary” landscape, their last occasions of movement being when they had been off-loaded from the monument company’s delivery truck.

Getting back to “Balfour pink,” I thought about when my son Jeremy and I attended the farewell concert of the Chapeleers”(brother Joe, the drummer) at Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church just a few weeks before. I’ve always loved rocks and minerals, and the inset square of “Balfour pink”granite in Saint Peter’s sign seemed like an old friend “looking” back ( I guess if it had been “augen gneiss,” it might have appeared to have winked!).

One large footstone at Chestnut Hill had evidently been freshly moved by a few inches, leaf detritus once “molded” against the stone precariously perched next to the freshly swiped space. The best I could figure was that a car had swerved off the cemetery path and nudged it; but we saw no tire tracks.That was the only example we saw there of what might be called “monolithic” movement.

Some of the heads of the little stone lambs children’s tombstones were gone. I thought it odd that something like that, more “streamlined” had perished, while in another instance, a life-sized Italian marble angel’s wings still stretched out in magnificence, but perhaps, it was the random vandal’s fault.

All of the cemetery tablets had names and numbers, some inscribed borrowed poems, along with appropriated (and “appropriate”) verses of scripture. I suddenly had the thought of crumbling skulls beneath me, from which un-written, even un-spoken memories had seeped into the soil and become lost (unless written down when each “bag of bones” was in its “articulate” and “articulated” heyday.)

Remembering the hour, Rita and I quickly left Chestnut Hill Cemetery to drive to College Barbecue, “while there was still time!”

It’s the greatest fun being in any cemetery with Rita, as we walk and talk, and she snaps pictures of headstones and plots.

In another paraphrase of Andrew Marvell: “The grave’s a fine and private place, of course; but none of its residents do there stroll, nor converse.”

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