Saturday, November 1, 2008


Down the road a bit from our house is a small, very old cemetery. In all the years I have driven by, I have never seen a new grave being dug, or a group of mourners standing around saying their good-byes. I'd call it a lonely place if it wasn't at the intersection of a busy county road and a state highway. But last summer, I noticed a bit more activity going on there. One day folks were there doing some tree trimming, a few days later, a couple of port-a-potties showed up, then one Sunday morning a party tent was there, along with a few garbage cans. I'd like to think someone had a family reunion at the cemetery.

Today is "All Saints' Day" and tomorrow is "All Soul's Day;" the two days together making up the Day of the Dead festival. I don't know much about it, except for what I Googled - in Mexico, the dead are remembered; families gather in cemeteries, sometimes having parties, sometimes decorating the graves of loved ones. I've always thought having a picnic near Grandma and Grandpa's graves would be a really great thing to do; telling stories, remembering, eating Grandma's famous hot dish and the meringue cookies she liked to make. It would be a time to remember and honor our dead without necessarily being in the throes of grief.

At Eddie Stern's burial, Karl's mother takes him "visiting" his dead Grandma Stern and Grandpa O'Keefe. It's a sad time for them to begin with, but the remembering is good, and does bring smiles in the midst of tears. Here's a little of that chapter:

“Karl, come here,” called Maggie. “See, this is your Grandma Stern’s grave.” It wasn’t far from where they were standing. "Eleanor Burktold Stern, 1859 –1918" Uncle George followed. “Do you remember her?” “I think so, I think I remember playing with her on her bed. She called me little bear or something.” Maggie laughed a little. “No, you were her little berry boy. She had a basket full of strawberries once, and she cut some of them into tiny pieces so you could have a taste. Well, you gobbled them up and surprised everyone by saying clear as day, ‘More, more!’ She got so excited about you talking that she gave you more than anyone else. You couldn’t get enough berries and your Grandma Stern couldn’t get enough of you.” Karl noticed tears in his mother’s eyes. “She was a wonderful lady.” “Yes, indeed,” said Uncle George. “I still miss her.” Maggie bent over and touched her gravestone. Karl looked around. “Where’s Grandpa Stern?” “They buried him at the asylum before they wrote to say he was dead. That always bothered your father.” Uncle George crossed himself. “What happened to him? Did you know him, Mama?” “Before he got sick everyone knew him. He owned the newspaper, edited and wrote for it. A good man, but no one wanted him around after...” Maggie looked across the cemetery. “Come here, I want to show you where my father is buried.” Karl didn’t protest when his mother took his hand as if he were still a little boy, although he hoped none of his classmates could see him from the school. Uncle George stayed behind at his mother’s grave; Will went back to Eddie’s. Karl and Maggie stopped at a stone marked with the words "Michael Liam O’Keefe 1861-1917." “Do you remember your Grandpa O’Keefe?” “He smelled like peppermint.” Maggie smiled. “He always had candy for the children. He was one of the town constables, but he loved to have fun, too.”

That's all for now. Remember your dear departed this weekend, and say a prayer of thanks for their lives.

(Above photo of fern growing in rock was taken on the north shore of Lake Superior.)

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