Saturday, July 6, 2024

"To an illegible stone"

     Last May I visited the New South Cemetery in Boxborough, Massachusetts, for no other reason than I was walking down Stow Road and there it was.
     My intent in steering myself onto its gravel path was to walk briskly through the graveyard and keep going. But I noticed a raccoon staring at me from a tree, and paused to stare back.  
     Next thing I knew, the gravestones themselves started catching my eye. Some for their unusual form.  Several were fashioned as benches, which seemed thoughtful — inviting visitors to linger. Here, visit my grave, have a seat.
    Some were noteworthy for the mysteries they held. Charles Brown, born in 1846, was buried here 60 years later, his grave marked by a stone prepared to include his wife, Eliza M., her dates given as "1851 - " and a blank. So ... was she buried there, but no one was left to update the stone to include her presence? Could fate have spun her away and she died elsewhere? She was 55 when her husband died. Could she be buried in another place, beside another husband? Were I Anne Rice, I might wonder, "Maybe she never died..." and be off to the races.
     The most evocative thing I noticed was a pair of headstones along a row — one had tipped forward, and the other back. The words on the one that had tipped back were illegible, worn away by the rain, covered in lichen. The other, being hunched forward, had shielded the writing, and maintained its purpose of recording who was buried there.  The front was almost pristine.
    "In Memory of Tabitha Taylor," it began. "Daughter of Capt. Silas & Mary Taylor. Who Departed this Life 3 Jan. 1789, "Aged 4 years, 4 months & 18 days."
    Above the inscription, an engraving of a drooping flower.
     Why had one pitched one way and one another? A tiny error in the setting of the stones? Random chance, a quirk of topography? Something to do with the micro-geology of the ground? We're all big believers in merit, but blind luck has a big role in what is preserved, what destroyed.
     Not that the affected parties care. The body buried under the effaced marker, and little Tabitha Taylor, are equally nonplussed in death, the same way that Samuel Clemens isn't happier in the afterlife than Finley Peter Dunne because his books are still in print.
     Ambition is all well and good, and I'm glad it goaded me forward for the past 50 years. But I'm also glad to be able to bank the fires now. We all end up in exactly the same place, eventually, and there's no harm in acquainting yourself with your inevitable destination a bit before you arrive.
     Of course I thought of T.S. Eliot's fine lines in "Little Gidding":    

     Every poem an epitaph. And any action
     Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
     Or to an illegible stone...




 "Every poem, an epitaph. Any any action is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat, or to an illegible stone."


  1. "Gravestones cheer the living, dear; they're no use to the dead."
    From "Buy Me the Rain," The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

  2. Into that good night…

  3. The being dead is the easy part and warrants poems, eulogies, and songs. It's the 3, 6, 9 months before it that are often a hellish slog and nobody likes to write about that.

  4. each passing day another step closer to the unknown
    none of us can be sure of what awaits
    to say we do no matter what our take is preposterous
    not equally so but still the claim we make may well be correct
    or completely off base asserting authority in this matter
    is foolishness of a sort only the least of us should assert
    there will likely never be proof of our suppositions
    why demand some high ground that doesn't exist
    what will be will be the futures not ours to see

    1. Weird. You assume yesterday is connected to today. But leave no room for intelligent design. Billions of years of evolution exist says the science, but white skin emerged less than 15,000 years ago. That's not logical. That's way too much time to evolve into our simple selves.

      What's the difference anyway to nihilists. So black and white thinking as if one knows it all.

    2. I wrote this at a message board many years ago, in a somewhat different form. as part of a much longer comment about being Jewish. Some of it may have already appeared at EGD. Apologies, if that's the case...

      Most Jews don't really agonize over an afterlife. We're just light bulbs. There's no light bulb heaven or light bulb hell. The light within goes out for good, after the brain ceases to function, and the bulb begins to decompose and has to be disposed of. Read that theory in a book by Chicago author James T. Farrell, at thirteen. Still believe it.

      Most faiths seem to be merely mental constructs that people use to stave off the fear of nothingness, which gets more real as one ages. And the realization that life will continue to proceed, just as it always has, only without you. No snow. No summer. No baseball. No beaches. In heaven, there is no beer.

      You walk among the monuments, in a lush and green cemetery, on a beautiful summer day. You realize that all these people once had lives and feelings and thoughts like your own. And eventually a summer will come...and you will not be here to see it. That may be the saddest and hardest and scariest part of all.

      But what the hey...if religion, and belief in a better place, helps someone to deal with all that, fine. Good for you. Whatever gets you through the night. But it's definitely not everyone's glass of tea.

  5. If I am on a bike ride I will stop 100% of the time at a graveyard to take a rest.

    1. Back in my bike riding days I used to stop at a little family plot in Rubio Woods. If I remember, the graves were from the 1800's.

  6. The practical bench stone could be in my future.

  7. There is an old cemetery near Wrigley Field . In my younger days we would walk through it. It was so peaceful and tranquil. It offered a nice break from the chaos of a Cubs game day.

    Our real motivation was to access the woods on the other side where we would smoke a doobie. I felt a little guilty but nobody ever saw what we were doing. Now that it’s legal there is no need to be so sneaky. I miss walking through there. Now when I suggest it, people think I’m joking.

    1. Wunder's Cemetery... just east of Clark and just south of the much larger and more renowned Graceland Cemetery. Very small...only about 15 acres. I remember going in there in the 80s, after Cub games, and getting high.

      Found chicken parts, and chicken bones, on some of the stones. Voodoo rituals, I was told, by a scalper buddy. Always ask the man who knows. He spent many years in New Orleans, living among the Haitians and the Creoles..

      Damn, how I miss those days.
      My Wrigley, and my Wrigleyville, are gone.
      Long gone. As is so much of my Chicago.

    2. Next to & south of Wunder's are two small Jewish cemeteries that are in need of a lot of landscaping. As far as I can tell, it's been a long time since anyone was buried at either of them.
      As for Wunder's, I remember seeing from the L a large contingent of movie studio trucks there at the east end, about 20 years ago. I have no idea what movie or TV show it was for. The greenhouse & office are now closed & the sign tells people to contact some Lutheran church for info. I don't know if anyone is living in the caretaker's apartment above the office, it's been years since I've seen anyone go into it while waiting for the bus at that corner.

  8. There's the family plot of the Russell Family on the property of Medline in Northfield. When Kraft owned the property, many employees refused to use the stairway next to the plot. Apparently that was the Russell's farm decades ago.


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