Graveyards and Christmas Cards

This is near the military section of the cemetery
This is near the military section of the cemetery

I love graveyards. I always have. I remember being 6 and visiting the graveyard in Bonners Ferry and thinking how pretty it was, and if I died soon I hoped they’d bury me there. I used to go hang out in the Mineral Cemetery to watch the stars on bright, clear nights. My husband proposed to me in the tiny graveyard we’d walked to on the night we met. I walked around the Wyoming Cemetery in Melrose the night I was in labor with Grey, and through Stoneham’s Lindenwood Cemetery the night I gave birth to Thane. I am often in graveyards, when I play taps for veterans funerals. I find graveyards lovely, peaceful, thought-provoking and restful.

Walking the quiet lanes
Walking the quiet lanes

On Saturday, we arranged with Coelynn McIninch to do our every-four-years formal family portraits. Coe had taken the Camp Gramp portraits two years ago, and I’d liked her work a lot, so it was logical to ask her to come and shoot us. But it was 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon in September, with fast-fading light. It was overcast, and a bit chilly. I’d _planned_ on going to the Middlesex Fells for the pictures, but suddenly that seemed a long way away. “Why don’t we just go to the graveyard?” my husband inquired, reading my mind. And so we went.

I should also mention that we are very respectful of graves, and we teach our sons to be as well. I never forget that a place of peace of me is a place of sorrow for others.*

I love this picture of Thane and me - and his golden gift!
I love this picture of Thane and me – and his golden gift!

Folks, the pictures are AMAZING. It was very, very difficult (nigh impossible!) to keep Thane looking forward and smiling, but she did it. Grey is adorably snaggle-toothed… I’m shocked that the front tooth has held on another few days! There were some pictures of us getting wiggles out, or being silly, or just being a family with a six year old and three year old (for a few more days!) I’m super pleased with all of them – both silly** and serious – and the hard part will be to decide which ones make it on the wall and in our Christmas cards!

This bridge was so lovely!
This bridge was so lovely!

That’s right, folks. The last game of the regular season is on the radio, so it is clearly time to think of Christmas cards!

I’m tempted not to share, if only so those of you who actually get Christmas cards from me are surprised, but that seems too mean.

Flynn Family Portraits – 2012: by Coelynn McIninch

*There was a guy there who was learning how to drive a clutch on the cemetery hills – loudly – and someone must have called the police because two cruisers pulled in just as we pulled out. I admit to being rather glad we were safely off by then!
**The ones where the boys are being zombies and eating Adam’s brains are AWESOME. I love the “Tomb of the Living Dead” some teenager scrawled on that wall years ago.

Momento mori

An angel of the sea with a broken anchor
An angel of the sea with a broken anchor

I’ve always loved graveyards. I remember being six and going to the graveyard overlooking Bonners Ferry, and thinking how lovely it was. I am particularly fond of older graveyards. I have taken many a happy walk through graveyards. In fact, I walked through graveyards during labor with both my sons (different graveyards). I love the quiet and peace of a cemetary. I enjoy reading the headstones and wondering about the relationship and lives of the remembered. I’m particularly fond of gravestones that hold some message for those left behind to read.

In the oldest New England graveyards, in New London, for example, the messages can be downright depressing – about how the inhabitant of the grave is in hell and if you aren’t more careful you will be too. One of my favorite classes in college was “Death, Dying and the Dead”, in which I learned that the whole purpose of the “pastoral graveyard” (of which Mt. Auburn in Cambridge is a prime example, and Arlington National Cemetery another) was to invite the living to remember the temporary status of their condition.

Anyway, with bright and fair weather, I took a walk to our local graveyard. It is no Mt. Auburn, granted. It sits high on a hill overlooking a Dunkin’ Donuts and used sports equipment store. It is the second oldest graveyard in town. The town was founded in 1725, so we have had significant history to bury. The oldest graveyard is next to the YMCA childcare center, but we aren’t permitted to wander there because it is (apparently) unsafe. (I imagine falling through an unstable burial chamber, and complain only a little.) This cemetery – Lindenwood – is also not the Catholic Cemetery. That’s further down the road. Lindenwood dates back to the early 1800s. A small stream runs picturesquely through, in a wooded glade at the bottom of the hill. The hallowed ground holds the remains two young brothers, whose mother updates their shared tombstone regularly. There’s a congressional medal of honor winner (WWII, by the dates). One of the last heroes of the now-nearly-forgotten Spanish American war lies there. In a few places, rings of white marble with initials surround large and imposing monuments, marking the final resting place of families. Sometimes this dignified white marble is marked with “Mom” and “Dad” – no names.

In this recent trip, I found quite possibly the creepiest tombstone EVER. Usually, as I tell myself stories about the people lying here (and perhaps more interestingly, the people who stood at their funerals), I can imagine what they were thinking when they made the choices they made. They decorate grandma’s grave with Christmas ornaments because she always went overboard at Christmas. The 30 year old who died in the 80s, but whose tombstone shows an infant going to God? Perhaps he was severely Downs Syndrome and his parents never saw him as a grown man. But I cannot for the life of me fathom what was going through the mind of the relations who placed this marble monument:

At the bottom it says, "Watching and waiting"
At the bottom it says, "Watching and waiting"

I can’t think of a single non-creepy interpretation of that one. It’s straight out of a Stephen King novel.

So how about you? Avoid cemeteries at all costs? Like to wander them? Find it morbid? What’s the creepiest you’ve ever seen? And what possible non-freaky interpretation could there be of Cora’s tomb?

A holy time of year

This morning, in the midst of my routine and sleepwalking life, was a truly unexpected moment. I was travelling my morning commute (the sans husband one, sadly). I was passing the Wyoming graveyard, which is large and low, and sometimes misty in the mornings. This morning it was pale in filtered morning sunlight, with iced-over snow between marble tombstones. I was passing between it’s high stone walls and a strip of houses backed between graveyard and gray cliff this morning, when I saw low movement. I braked, so as not to hit whatever it was. And there, 7 miles from the center of Boston, in the quiet urban landscape between rowhomes and tombstones, walked a red fox. His tail was bushy. He looked energetic and cheerful, crossing in front of me. Against the paleness of the morning, he was brightly and vividly red.

How does this fox come to find a home in the midst of thick habitations? Does he make his living on pets incautiously let outdoors? Is he on some journey, headed towards less and less hospitable lands? Why was I given to see him in this time between Solstice and Christmas?

There are rational answers for all, but I do not feel the siren call of rationality. To the opposite, right now I yearn for mystery and nature, the unknown and unknowable, for purpose and intent in the universe without my necessarily needing to know what that purpose is.

And today, this morning, I saw a red fox in the Wyoming graveyard, beshrouded in snow.