Hither & Yon
I'd like to think I'm not a creepy person, but I have to say there are few things I enjoy as much as a really old cemetery.
I know I'm a bit of an outlier in this passion. Most people I know can't get past the idea of rotting bodies and creaking skeletons a few feet underground, not to mention the possibility of all those restless spirits moving about.
But not me. I love to wander the rows, enjoy the variety of stones and statuary, and dive deep into the epitaphs — the mini-biographies you can glean from the phrases, the dates, the symbols on the stones, and the proximity of who is buried near and when they died.
When you think about it, cemeteries are storybooks in tangible form, moss and granite narratives about people and the lives they lived and sometimes how they died.
I laughed aloud when I read the soldier's tombstone that told me he fell in a nearby creek and drowned while wandering drunk — not a fun way to meet your maker, to be sure, but amusing that they'd put that on his tombstone.
And I cried when I came upon the family of seven and realized that the parents lost five children in quick succession, no doubt to infectious disease, then went on to live another three decades alone and died within days of each other.
There's a cemetery near my home that I'm drawn to. It's listed as a pioneer cemetery and has many graves from early Portland settlers in the mid-1850s, but it's also flavored with burials of more recent emigrants to the Northwest. I delight in the Cyrillic and Chinese writing, the quotes from poetry that originated far away, and the quirky objects left with flowers.
I wonder about their stories, their lives starting over so far from home, and I am always left wanting to know more.
If I could, I'd bring up every one of those dearly departed so I could ask about their lives, interview them to find out what made them happy, what broke their hearts, and what they regretted.
Is that creepy? Perhaps. But note that I'm not in the least interested in their deaths or what's happened to their mortal body since it's been entombed or their spirit since it departed its home — I want to know about the Before.
I live in a home constructed 107 years ago, and every time I walk out of a room and reach out to turn out the lights I wonder about the Before, about the house's story.
Who lived there? Was the lady of the house nagged by her husband to turn off unneeded electricity as often as the current lady is? How many children took their first steps under my house's roof? Was anyone married there? Did anyone die there?
What did they do for a living? Did my home belong to a plumber, a dentist, a streetcar conductor? Who chose the flowered wallpaper under my drywall, and why did they choose that pattern? How did that big dent in the corner of the hardwood floor get there? Dropped furniture? Children roughhousing?
I do the same thing in secondhand stores. Who wore this old mohair sweater? Was it for work? And what did they do for their job? Don't you wish objects could talk and tell you where they've been and what happened to them?
As far as the names at cemeteries, sometimes I can find a bit of their stories — do some research and find out their profession, when they moved to the area and whether their names were ever in the news.
As for the rest, I'll just have to use my imagination.
Leslie Pugmire Hole is editor of the West Linn Tidings.
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