Friday, May 27, 2011

If You Close Your Eyes...You Can Feel Them

We have always taken pictures in graveyards.  Always.



My husband has always found it strange...morbid.

For as long as I could remember, each Memorial Day was marked by another photo at the head of the grave--next to the stone, so the names and dates might show--giving the dead their place in the family photo.  Not everyone was in the photo, mind you, just those who chose to take the time, to make the journey.

My mother's side of the family had two graveyards to tend, and the journey took the better part of the day.  First driving one direction (for over an hour) then stopping, tending to the stone, arranging the flowers, scattering the rosemary (for remembrance, if you believed Shakespeare, and I did), then facing the camera for the flicker of a moment that it took to memorialize your duty.

Perhaps we would stop for something to eat at Judy Ann's Diner, then we would face the other direction, drive several more hours through twisty, turny back roads, venturing down unmarked gravel roads lined with evening primrose, past the the point where someone asked, "Are you sure this is the right road?  Maybe we should turn around" at least three times, before finding ourselves at a tiny, well-kept graveyard, surrounded by overgrown wildness.  A family graveyard so pristine, with its stones worn smooth, that it did not matter that the names were lost to time...they were family, perhaps a hundred or so faces that I never saw, but part of their blood runs through mine still, so I run my fingers over the vague indentions in the stone, wishing I had thought to bring some paper and some charcoal, and I try to spend enough time with them that I don't feel foolish for the five hour round trip drive that this graveyard's visit cost me.

After all, I remind myself, it is just time...and they have all the time in the world.  What was it that T. S. Eliot said?    ...time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions...

Finally, I raise to my feet for the obligatory photo.


This year, I think it is time to pass this on to the young ones.  I will scrawl a hand drawn map, as my great-grandmother did for me.  I will tell the same stories she told, pointing out the same markers as we drive, and I will feel her there with us as I do.  Her words as familiar to me as my own, as if her stories were mine.  And, in truth, they are.

So as we gather the things to for the journey, there shall be rosemary cut fresh from the plant, and a basket to gather the evening primrose, and there will be my camera.

This year, another generation takes their place in the photo.

4 comments:

firespark said...

I love this post so much. I wish I had more family rituals like this to pass onto my own. Maybe I should make some. So much of my family history is scattered over the states. No graveyards here to visit... no family plots. I have to carry them in my mind. Be grateful that your family stayed close to home. Be grateful they held with tradition. It is a true treasure, the kind you can never buy.

Kristen said...

We do the same thing. ... well.. my grandparents did it and now my mother does it. *sigh* I think we are about the same age. Does this mean I have to grow up? You put it into perspective ~ so I guess I will try this year. Let's meet back here Monday night and swap stories :)

tinsenpup said...

I like to take photos in old cemeteries, at least I used to. It's the aesthetic of them; all those aged markers.

I love the notion of passing on rituals. We have no rituals that link us to past.

GingerGirl said...

I made it to one of the two (actually three, now that I think about it) graveyards. The kids are still a bit young to venture that many miles of travel and still hope for good spirits. It ended up being a nine hour trip, but it was so worth it. I told the old stories and felt like so many long-passed were a bit closer again. The kids had a great time, too.