In our meandering through back roads the other day, my dad and I whizzed past an old, abandoned church with a cemetery. An old time rural churchyard. “Oooh.” I made a mental note. “Need to come back here to wander among the tombstones and take photographs.”
The quiet calmness of rural cemeteries draws me. Wandering through the tombstones. Looking at dates, names. Wondering about their lives. Their dreams. Their hopes. This time was no different.
The signage for the church vanished long ago. In places bricks had come loose. Windows were boarded up. Only two showed a peek inside. Plants and a railing through one window. A dual cassette player through another. The door leading down to the basement was ajar. Leaves and trash blown inside. When and why did the community vanish? Leaving a crumbling church and an accompanying graveyard?
As I wandered through the cemetery, I was surprised again and again. Too many people left this earth too soon—even now. A firefighter one year younger than I laid to rest almost ten years ago. Several modern-day wives gone. Gone in their twenties, thirties, forties. What were the stories behind these losses?
Some had served in some war or other, proudly recounting their service on their tombstones. Others didn’t proclaim their service but died young during years of combat, leaving me to wonder. Were they too victims of warfare?
Several graves had flowers planted around them. Or were graced by angels. Strewn among the newer tombstones were older ones. Often askew. Broken. Lying on the ground. Or pushed up at old angles by the ground beneath. Uncared for. Their loved ones clearly long gone too. Now they are not even memories.
No surprise that older tombstones were worn and unreadable. Others managed to escape the ravages of time and the elements. A few had clearly been replaced. Even though a century or more had past, these people still existed in the memories of someone. There was a shiny new grave marker for a man who lived from 1805 to 1900. And I stopped to marvel at the things he must have lived through. And the lifespan he managed to have.
Markers for children and infants existed next to their parents. No one else had been laid to rest there. Had this been their only child?
Under one tree was a tombstone, so small and so close to the trunk of the tree, the person must have been laid to rest when the cemetery—and the tree—were young. Which, judging by the older tombstones, was in the early 1800s.
Around the side of the tree was another tombstone. Of a child who died at 8 months back in 1867. But the stone was lying as if scattered. As if this wasn’t the place it belonged. It had misplaced the grave it marked.
I wondered where it came from. Just like I wondered about the stories of all of the people in the cemetery. What were their dreams? What did they accomplish? What did they strive for? What were their lives like? And who were they? I turned to leave their whisperings on the wind and head back into the stories of the living.