When I was a child, my mother used to bring my brother and I to old graveyards and do rubbings of all the old headstones. Some might think that macabre but I always thought it was cool. It was like an art project outside. And a history lesson too. Back in the day, headstones were carved with pretty designs and carried wonderful commentary about those who left us behind. They tell stories to anyone wanting to take the time to visit. Which is why I wandered over to the old cemetery in the historic section of South Natick in my adopted hometown to see what stories it held.
These are the types of rubbings my mom would make. This particular design was very pretty but also kind of spooky. And it was quite prevalent throughout this old graveyard. I am used to seeing religious symbols recreated in graveyards but not this intricate weeping willow design. I don't know the meaning behind it but I would like to know.
Here is one of the headstones that was adorned by the willow design. The decorative carvings may have a meaning behind them unknown to me, but the words laid out at the bottom of each headstone speak volumes about what the surviving family wants us to know about the departed. They tell terrific stories all their own. This is Ms. Olynda Bird. She died in 1828 at the age of 28 and was virtuous and amiable. But I loved the gift of words peeking at me from the base of her headstone:
"She was a daughter lovely a sister dear,
A faithful companion and friend sincere,
She left this world of woe and pain,
Our loss we trust is her eternal gain."
Some people resting here are not as easy to get to. There are sections overgrown tucked in corners surrounded by weeds that I am hesitant to wade through for fear of poison ivy. And this marker specifically reminded me of Neil Gaiman's terrific YA book, "The Graveyard Book," where a baby crawls into a cemetery after his family is murdered and is protected and raised by the spirits who live there. Some areas are more overgrown than others and he meets some very special folk in those particular places. I wonder who this old soul was?
Sadly, in old graveyards especially, you find more young souls than old. This plastic statue was placed on a footmarker of a child's grave. I thought it was a real carving until I went to touch it. But rather than be disappointed in fake stone I was touched that someone in modern days cared enough to place it at the grave of a child who died so long ago.
Sometimes I will admit, it does get a bit creepy in graveyards. These markers have been invaded by a grand tree that at some point was planted as a small sapling to bring shade and comfort to these families' mourners. Now it is pushing the gravestones aside. It looks like a Halloween set-up and gave me a bit of a shiver in the bright daylight.
This site made me proud. Many of those left at rest in this graveyard were veterans. Of the Civil War. Such a deadly war and tremendous sacrifice of life that our country survived. That is an important lesson cemeteries teach us. Every life has a story, and many contributed to important moments of history. You can learn more about your region's people and their impact at a local graveyard than you can in the history books sometimes. All you need are a few lasting headstones and a curiosity to delve into their meanings. I can't wait to visit our town's Historical Society and learn more about the people whose markers tell the tales of my town's past.
Does your town have a cemetery? Have you ever stopped to read the stories left behind in the engravings and appreciate the art displayed in these final impressions?