Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grave Tending

There’s been a spate of death again—mostly parents of good friends. So, I’ve been thinking about graveyards. I spend a lot of time in graveyards—not because I’m morose or melancholy—but because in the gardening off season, I help people with their family trees, and graveyards provide a wealth of information. You get to find out who is buried with whom and who isn’t in the family plot.

I like the old country graveyards with the upright headstones of different shapes and sizes better than the new memorial gardens with flat stones that make it easy for the mower but uninteresting for visitors.

My favorite graveyard is the one on Justøya, the island in southern Norway, where most of my family is buried. I like it because I can tend the graves there. It’s another place to garden and make lovely. It’s an act of love that provides an opportunity to remind me of my roots and history. I am used to bringing my own equipment, but in recent years, the church provides trowels and cultivators and buckets for hauling water from the well. There’s also a wheelbarrow for hauling away the weeds, but many people just heave them over the fence to the sheep that graze there.

Even though there is a protocol about who is responsible for which graves, I do pull weeds on graves we’re not tending. (I do this when I visit US graveyards, too.) Planting and painting (touching up the names that may have faded over the winter) are strictly for the responsible parties. The florist on the mainland has annuals marked especially for gravesites, which change with the season. Some graves now have perennials or rose shrubs, so the annuals get tucked in rather than take center stage.

I don’t have any experience with grave tending in the US. I don’t know whether there are similar rules about who can/should tend which graves. If you do, I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment and let me know how it works here.


Marguerite said...

I've never actually had to tend to a grave but once had the opportunity to visit a graveyard on Galiano Island in British Columbia. What a lovely spot and so well cared for. Overlooking the ocean, grave sites were filled with old roses and flowers and, very interesting to me, numerous plots had trinkets and knick knacks set on them. Everything from tea cups to tiny vases and toys. I'm not sure if this is common but it was delightful to see these items reminding us of the people put to rest.

Elephant's Eye said...

With parents who emigrated to South Africa, we do not have family graves to tend. So it was interesting to me to see how the Swiss tend their graves. Similar to your Norwegian experience. Saddest are the graves of young children, with toys left there ...

catharine Howard said...

Graveyards used to give me the serious creeps but now I love them - especailly widly corners unkempt and the romance of the tombs and wondering what lives people had.

Auntie K said...

Marguerite; the setting of the graveyard does add or detract from the experience, doesn't it? The seaside spot sounds lovely.

Elephant's Eye; I agree with you about the graves of the young children. I sometimes discover the graves of infants on a genealogical trip and it always makes me catch my breath. I haven't seen toys on graves, but will keep my eye out on my next tour. Thank you for stopping by.

Catharine; Yes! When I was a child, some graveyards would creep me out. At some point, though, it changed for me, too. I always come away from the graveyard with a story about the people who I'm researching. Sometimes, it turns out to be right, sometimes it's pure speculation.

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful comments. I was apprehensive about posting this one, but it has been sticking with me for several days and felt I really had to do it. I'm glad to know it resonated with each of you in some way.

Ginny said...

How wonderful that trowels etc are provided to tend the graves.
I've always found cemeteries interesting and often beautiful places. I also much prefer those with upright headstones, and I especially like older cemeteries with sheltering trees.

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