If only you could read my resume. It would have a lot of life experience, a whole ton of odd stories, a dizzying collection of skills, and yet nothing you could possibly use to hire me for anything. Cemeteries are a good way of illustrating this because I have volunteered many a summer day to archive them. I know, you’re scrunching your nose wondering what exactly that means… It means I went out with a group of other women who were super into genealogy (which sadly, I am not) and we toured all the old cemeteries in the area, scribbling on outdated maps and tattered notebooks a few key details – where each stone was placed, what they were made of, what they read, and any other notes. These were being compiled for a book for prosperity – almost finished but not published yet.
I was the youngest on the crew in those days so my eyes were of more use than anything else. I was given the stones everyone else had given up on – the markers who were so worn down by wind and weather that they were virtually impossible to read. I LOVED this work. Sometimes I spent as much as forty five minutes trying to hobble together what one stone read, a task that took particularly long because old stones in New England often have whole poems inscribed on them. Often they’re beautiful rhyming quatrains, elegantly written in the vocabulary of the day, which makes trying to figure out what they say even more difficult. Luckily I had some practice in Old English and knew a few tricks (like old F’s look like S’s and words like “warbled” are nearly obsolete but real.)
I can’t tell you how great this experience was. I learned so much about local history doing this. I jotted down the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers, I witnessed in writing the lives and deaths of slaves (yes, New England had those too,) I got to see the profound effects of dysentery which killed a great deal of children under the age of ten, I also read on various stones about children dying in factory accidents, old women spontaneously combusting, and even a note to someone who had claimed to invent powdered milk. And if all that wasn’t enough I became familiar with the art – as many of these stones had intricate and eerie carvings of weeping willows, urns, bundles of wheat, cherubs, and skulls.
Imagine our surprise when we were driving to Doane’s Falls and stumbled upon a cemetery we hadn’t archived. I was thrilled, I can’t say the woman that organizes these little ventures was quite as much. This was a large cemetery and she thought she was done! We parked the car and took a quick jaunt to see if maybe she had just forgotten this place but nothing seemed to trigger her memory. I took a few photos and this is really what New England is all about – history, art, poetry, nature, and look at those stone walls in the background. I would miss those dearly if I ever left this place.
I will be writing a further entry if in fact we haven’t archived this cemetery because that means I will be back for a far closer look!
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