Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grave matters

I looked at the calender yesterday and noted that the weather looked good here in Central Ohio for Wednesday, and then would get progressively hotter and more miserable Thursday through Memorial Day, so I thought it best to scoot back home to Marion, Ohio and tend to the family graves in the family plot.

Back in the 1800s my great great grandfather bought a large plot - large enough 20+ graves -  in the park like cemetery overlooking the Swan Lake.  Prime real estate, too.  It fronted on one of the drives in the cemetery and was across the drive from his older brother Oliver's real estate in the cemetery.

The first burial was an infant who would have grown into my grandfather's aunt Lottie.  She died at 18 months from rheumatic fever, and a little marble marker was erected.  Two more children - my grandfather's cousins joined Lottie in the plot when they died of typhoid.  Then my great great grandparents joined the plot a year apart.  Though divorced, they are right next to one and other.  There wasn't money for the grand marker that he envisioned like his brother erected.

Then something happened.  To pay for the headstones for each of their graves, my great grandfather and his two surviving sisters sold a half interest in the family plot to a family friend.  Under the terms of the sale, the family would say whoever "died first got buried first."  This meant we had to share eternity with perfect strangers, and when its on a first come, first serve basis for the rest of time, the real estate became more valuable.   These people planted their dead overlooking Swan Lake, which was eventually filled in, renamed "Shady Grove", and the real estate sold for more burials.

My great grandfather and his daughter (my grandfather's sister) died of TB six months apart and were buried next to one and other.  Then a great aunt, another great aunt, my great grandmother, my grandparents and an uncle, and an aunt.  The other people buried their dead, but now we out numbered them, 4:1.

All the time growing up, every Memorial Day mom would drag me to the cemetery and we'd plant flowers, and trim, and kill weeds, especially after her mother died.

"Aunt Eva left everything she had in the world to Pop if he promised there would always be flowers on her grave," she would remind me.   And every year there were.

Then Mom joined the residents of the plot in December, 2010.

Before it was just planting flowers.  After she was gone it was less about planting flowers, took on more meaning of tending to the dead.

So yesterday I sat with Mom's grave stone.  I caught her up to date on what was happening while I removed the clay dirt we have here and replaced it with good topsoil.  I planted to spikes, two coleus, and two begonias.  Then I did the same at each grave in our family.  Then I used a nylon brush to dislodge the lichens that grow on the granite surfaces.   And the three little marble markers?  They had dissolved away to the point where they were unreadable so I paid out my pocket to have them replaced with granite markers and the same inscriptions.

The other people used to put on a great show with their floral plantings, but their area is unkempt.  Maybe they're done with the space, or too old or have other concerns.  It's not my problem.  But out our graves look cohesive, look kept up and look FABULOUS.

My cousins never go to the cemetery - they send their daughter to the store with fifty dollars for flowers and she spends five dollars on a geranium for her grandfather and pockets the rest.  Since I have no children to raise, the cemetery plot has become my duty, just as the role of keeper of the family genealogy is my duty as well.

Next year, if we move, I wonder who will take this duty on in my stead.

And the rest of the spaces?  Well, I went back and reread the deed, and found out you don't have to be dead to get a space.  You just have to be a direct descendant of the original deed holders to make your reservation, first come, first serve.  So I have a space, and my cousins have spaces and my remaining uncles and aunt have their spaces as well.

And what about those other people?  No swans, no lake front view.  But what they don't know about the other spaces, won't hurt them, either.


  1. My grandfather did the same thing in the 1940s, buying 16 plots in a cemetery for him and my grandmother, and for their 7 children and their presumed spouses. Five are now used (one by my father, their favorite son-in-law), three of my parents' generation are buried elsewhere. I never thought of it as a real estate opportunity. But no view and definitely no Swan Lake. Anyway, I'd pity any outsiders who moved in. My grandfather was never very neighborly.

    1. A lot of people either don't know how these family plots work. But if its paid for, its one last thing to buy, right? Free is free: deal of the decade as far as I'm concerned.

  2. Replies
    1. you read the obits, some read grave markers. Jolly fun.