Our parish has an annual event called the Hallowed Hayride. It's held the weekend before All Saints Day, down at the parish cemetary -- 10 acres on the south side of town, which the parish has owned since the 1890s. Off in the empty, grassy area that serves as overflow parking for funerals, there's a bonfire and food. Along the central loop of the cemetery, different groups from the parish set up dramatic tableaux based on different saints. As the sun sets, horse drawn wagons take people around to see the tableaux, each about five minutes of action and narration, while a guide reads a script between stops which talks about the history of the cemetery and about Christian beliefs regarding burial and life after death.
This year the Knight of Columbus presented the conversion and martyrdom of St. Longinus, the seminarians from the nearby pontifical college did St. Lawrence on the grid iron, and the youth group did St. Julia. Kids from the parish school did three other stops with multiple saints each.
Our kids weren't actin in any of the tableaux, but they were supposed to help put out luminarias along the paths, so they were there early and there was time to spend before things got started. So I took the baby, who was restive, and went walking around.
I like cemeteries and I hadn't had a chance to wander this one much, even though we've lived here for four years now. It's been the parish cemetery 125 years, but the was an older cemetery on part of the land which the parish cemetery has since swallowed up. That old section has headstones engraved in cursive script dated from the 1830s through the 1850s.
One of the things I like about our town is that it hasn't outgrown its history. The downtown isn't much bigger than it was in 1910, though the outlying areas have grown a good bit. This cemetery is much different from the more modern ones I grew up with in California, with the land all flat and the headstones flush with the ground so that big riding mowers could move through the whole area easily. Here the grounds rolls in little depressions and rises and nearly all the stones are upright. This has the feel of a place which has quietly seen a lot of people come and go, not an open space that has been tamed for the purpose of conducting burials efficiently.
Walking the cemetery is also a good time to focus your perspective a bit. MrsDarwin found a woman who was born almost exactly a century before she was.
"I like to find people born a century before me and see what year they died," she told me.
"How'd it go?"
"Well, thirty-four more years. That's not a bad run..."
I suppose sixty-nine counts as an early death these days, but nonetheless I'd feel a certain relief if I knew that I'd have at least thirty-four more years to be with my loved ones and to get things done.
Other sources of perspective are more sobering. We say a headstone from 1910 for a baby who died at 10 months and 19 days. Our youngest, who I was carrying with me, is 10 months and 3 days old. Momento mori. I wrapped him tighter in his blanket against the evening breeze.
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