I live in a very old house. Although the occurrence of my tenancy is fairly recent I have lived here long enough to have more questions than answers about the “former” inhabitants of my home. There are the usual creakings of a more than a century old home. That is to be expected. The cat has a tendency to stare quietly at something quite invisible while the dog barks frantically into the same empty air. There is the light in the upstairs bathroom (a room the dog shuns religiously) that shuts itself off. Oddly enough most usually as soon as one has settled into a newly drawn tub of water in anticipation of a good long soak. There is the sound of the back door opening, heard with enough certainty that an assumption is solidly made that someone has come in from outside. There is the soft touch as if a hand had reached out to slow one’s ascent of the front stairs or the persistent feeling that someone is looking over one’s shoulder as they type. There is the back yard that is misty when the fields are as clear as a bell. These things, some will say, are open to debate. I won’t deny that. As I have already said there are more mysteries here than answers.
There is a broken tombstone that rests beside the shed in my yard. The bottom half is girded by cement, an indication that at one time it was reset above a grave after time or weather had felled it. Its white marble, though marked by the passage of time and the elements, still shows a barely visible inscription. It is a memory of two lives cut tragically short. The dates so coldly inscribed more than a century past are a poor relic of the tears that must have been shed. Months mark the span of one child while just the listing of the year marks the journey of the second. A small passage, barely legible, exhorts God to guard those he has taken from their parents’ arms before it fades into the smoothness of weather worn stone.
Cemeteries are numerous in my home township. Rural cemeteries are, for the most part, quite small and most have sections dedicated to generations of a particular family. There are stones that mark entire lineages from first settlers to contemporary descendants. The saddest perhaps are those who have gone before their time. White and steely grey marble marks the graves of those fallen in the first and second world war. Although buried overseas they were never forgotten here at home. Mothers and babes, lost together in that first and last moment of life, are joined together eternally. The ever changing coverlet, verdant now yet to fade to gold, has been well watered by the rain and the tears of those left behind. Most of the cemeteries are well maintained but there are several past salvation. In those pastures only the county knows whose years lay forgotten under crumbling white marble and neatly mowed lawns. The dead may visit the shadows. If so they remain unseen though this is where they bide. In these places the thundering silence has married the seasons. An errant wind lost among the stones may only play an accompaniment, never lead or drown that whisper.
The cemetery I am to set out for is very close to my home. I have only to step out of my door and travel a bit south to Lakeview Line. Following the gravel road I keep an eye out for the posted cemetery sign. It’s there to the left, dark letters on a faded sign mounted on an old chain link fence. The cemetery is long and narrow. The boundaries are marked by towering pines that in turn give way to fields of tall corn glowing soft amber in the grey light of a cloudy autumn afternoon. The land is well kept and we walk between the stones remarking on flower arrangements and the beauty of the monuments. The older stones are harder to read. Moss obscures the sides closest to the woods and time has had a hand in hiding the rest. There is a weight to the air. It seems crowded even though we are the only ones in sight. I find the name I’m looking for at the very back of the cemetery, just a little up from the old abandoned gardening shed. An answer of sorts is carved in the white marble. The broken tombstone has been replaced. The boys rest with their parents and a monument to a brother who fought and was buried in a far distant France. There are aunts and uncles that lie near by. They are surrounded by an extended family, not alone as I had feared. I wanted to talk to them and if I’d come alone I might of, maybe another time. I can hear the sound of the lake just a stone’s throw away beyond the corn that hedges the pines. The day is fading and the sandy shore waits beyond this place.
The tide is high. The beach is worn smooth and clean by the incessant waves. We walk barefoot through muddied waters that lap around our ankles and then recede. My husband remarks that my footprints are like those of a child, small and light. Glancing down I see it is true. My feet barely leave a mark on the wet sand while his passage is marked by deep impressions that are larger and spaced farther apart. Looking further back along our path though I can see that the waves have done their work. Despite the disparity in depth and size both of our steps have been erased, wiped away by the rhythm of the water. The sand is as clean and bare as if we’d never been there at all.