Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tending Family

So these are shots of my home town - Owego, New York. The Susquehanna River runs through the town. These pictures were taken atop Evergreen Cemetery, known to the locals as Cemetery Hill. We were standing in front of the grave of Sasana Loft. It's quite the gathering place.

While we were there, we interrupted the peace and tranquilty of a poor teenager in the midst of teen angst and next thing you know there are car loads of people (adults and kids) and one lady brought doughnuts and began sharing them with everyone, and it was quite the little social gathering. The look on the poor teenager's face was like "and I just wanted to be left alone." It's not something you expect to happen in an old cemetery, but this isn't your average cemetery.

It's old, it's cool, it's hilly, the graves seem haphazardly scattered all over the hills and in every nook and cranny. There are huge old trees, gnarled roots, marble mausaleums, grand family plots with stone memorials and humble little stones just barely popping up above the ground. I've always said this is the only cemetery that doesn't scare me. Although I must admit to being a little creeped out as a child up there at twilight. This was the first stop in our little family outing. I try to go up here every time I go home. I couldn't go up the last time because of all the snow. The road going in is extremely steep and crooked.

This is the place where I would like to be buried, or what's left of me after the organ donations. I want to fit in with my eternal neighbors, so I want a cool tombstone, a soaring angel, wings outstretched ready to take flight, arms reaching upward, ready to be welcomed home into the arms of loved ones who have gone before me. I want my tombstone to reflect my attitude about death, it is not an end, but the next step in the journey. Fearing it is a waste of energy when so many others have already gone before and there's no way to avoid it anyway. So, one last breath before I go, then onward and upward, soaring home. I'd also like this to be a place where people would feel comfortable having a picnic lunch like families used to do ages ago on the weekends. You know, we don't visit cemeteries like our ancestors did. I find that disrespectful on some level.

Which leads me to my next set of photos and our next cemetery. In addition to going to cemetery hill to see my beloved hometown and put flowers on a friend's grave, I also like to visit other cemeteries where family members are buried, clean their graves off and leave fresh flowers. Who knows if some part of them remains behind to even be aware of what I'm doing, or if they're in some other place, yet know I've been there. On some level, I want to let them know they have not been forgotten, just as I hope someone will remember me someday.

It's also a chance for me, if I'm alone, to quietly remember, sift through all the memories and images I have of that loved one, remembering who they were, what part of them I carry with me in my own DNA, and to feel a part of something older than myself, bigger than just me, this speck of life floating in the universe.

But it's always a better experience when I have my sister P there. Sometimes it's just quiet and we search for the graves, other times, she might remember something about the family member and share that piece of family history with me, revealing things I was too young to know or remember at the time. This is also a way to reconnect with my sister, my past and remember, not all of it was awful. We are all flawed human beings, we make mistakes, sometimes we hurt the people closest to us, but if we're lucky, we're forgiven and loved in spite of ourselves and our mistakes.

So tending to family members for me is a form of redemption. A reclamation of my identity that too easily gets lost while I am out in the big, bad world, so far away from my origins and my people. It's a way for me to remind myself, this is who I am. This is where I am from. This is my history.

These people are my family. This is who I look like, this is where I get my love of writing, my excess energy in the morning, my German tendency to clean and have things neat, tidy and organized. I am a composite of all those who came before, and I am the seed for those who will come after. I am part of a continuum, and when you look at it that way, death is not so scary, it's not really an end.


PENolan said...

Beautiful in every way

Vancouver Voyeur said...

Thank you.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Beautiful, my dear. And that first cemetary is very special---I can see that from your pictures. Of course, the second one is too, because of so much 'family' being buried there.
I love the idea of picnics at the cemetary...It makes it a place of joyousness and comfort. I have a very old friend who's Daddy use to take them all to the cemetary for picnics on a Saturday or Sunday when they were just kids, and when he diedm they all felt so GOOD about going to the place where they had such a wonderful times--With him. And taking him back there to be buried....
I like cemetary's and find a peacefulness there.

Anonymous said...

I too miss the days of picnics in the cemetary while home this summer I wanted to take pictures in the little on in Speedsville but every one thought me goulish...
I took some anyway..:)

Anonymous said...

Hi, K Very nice post, Dont have much time right now, but did enjoy your perspective, on things, very similar to my own, with a little twist. And nice photo's they were, thought it was quite neet, when photo, is enlarged, just how much of the town can be seen. Latter p

maeve said...

K, LOVED this post and your words ... moving, enlightning, touching, inspiring, etc. I have not been up to that hill in some time, may have to do that this week!! Soooo sorry we were not able to hook up ... maybe next time!!!

Vancouver Voyeur said...

Hi Marilyn, yes, one of these trips we must meet up. We were too tired to go out the day we arrived, otherwise we would have bellied up to the bar and shared a few. We'll try to give you more advanced notice the next time we pop up.

So sad and too soon

Dolores O'Riordan -