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Monday, August 24, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened in the Cemetary....

This is not usually the way most people start out a story. There usually aren't humorous things going on in cemetaries, admittedly. But then again, nobody has ever accused me of being unaware of the concept of "gallows humor". For a definition of gallows humor, click here. I don't know if this story really applies to the concept of gallows humor; probably not, but it was the first thing that popped into my head.

The other day, E and I were walking through a cemetary that is near our home. The Prairie Home Cemetary is quite large and the oldest cemetary in our town. I believe they started doing burials in it in the 1850s or 1860s or thereabouts. While it may seem strange to some people, both E and I actually enjoy walking through cemetaries and do so quite often. It is much like being in a park; it's usually very pretty and usually very quiet. I love to look at the older burials of course, and wonder at the stories of these people's lives. Sometimes I feel a sad sort of poignance about it, knowing that these folks buried over a hundred years ago no longer have people alive to remember them and all is left to show they were here at all is a worn stone marker with a few words and some dates. I feel somehow gratified to pause at their stones, read their names and acknowledge, if only for a minute, that they were here, even if no longer mourned. I am not naturally squeamish about death, as an abstract, which I suppose explains my enjoyment of hanging out in cemetaries.

It is not, and was not, very odd for a long time, to consider a cemetary as a public park of sorts. Folks in the Victorian Era often spent Sunday afternoons in cemetaries, looking at the monuments and even having picnics in them. The "garden cemetary", as they were then known, was just becoming the popular thing in that era. Before that, cemetaries were quagmires of filth and the stench of decay, often with multiple burials stacked upon one another in layers so that some bodies were only inches below the ground and cemetaries were avoided by everyone. They were feared to be pits of putrid disease, which in fact, they probably were. The new "garden cemetary" soon became all the rage and as there were few things such as public parks in those days, the cemetary soon became the place to be if you wanted to enjoy a little fresh air and sunshine or some quiet time to contemplate your thoughts.

But, I digress. Getting back to my story; E and I decided to take one of our evening walks to the cemetary, as we often like to do, seeing as the weather was very fine. It was about 6:30 in the evening on a Saturday night; not usually the time of day when you'd find many people in a cemetary. In fact, on all the times we have been there to go walking, we have never seen anyone else there at the same time we have been (unless they were on the very far side of the place; it is a very large cemetary and seems to go on for miles although I don't know it's exact acreage). On this evening, however, we saw several cars in our immediate view as we entered through a small side gate that we discovered and often use. One car passed us by at least twice and we did also see several people walking, as we were. We often stick to the older section where the older burials are, but we did eventually wander into another area that we had not previously been in before (very near the cremation gardens) and saw again, at least 2 cars that seemed to be "looping" through the cemetary. Both E and I commented on how odd it was that there were so many people about and we guessed that perhaps they might have been people who had attended a funeral there, though it seemed rather late in the day. As we paused to admire a particular crypt, one of the cars we had seen paused and a woman leaned out of the open window and said, "Did you find it?"
E and I both looked at one another for a moment in mutual confusion. My first thought was that there had been a funeral, or there was going to be one, and this woman seemed to think we were going to be attending the burial (even though we were both wearing shorts and t-shirts) and that she had mistaken us for mourners who were lost.
I missed part of what she said next, so complete was my confusion, but the gist of her next words regarded how they had been driving around for quite some time (there was a man in the car with her) and that "everyone" they had come upon said they were unable to find "it".
I soon learned what "it" was she was talking about and I had one of those moments where it would seem appropriate to smack a hand against your forehead and then say, "Duh!"

It seemed she had mistaken us for fans of Les Paul (1915-2009), who had died August 13 in New York and then "went home" to be buried in Prairie Home Cemetary( with great pomp and circumstance, I heard), since Waukesha was his hometown and place of birth. If you are not familiar with Les Paul, the musician, inventor and innovator, you can click here. The link is from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 1988. Around here, he is often called "The Wizard of Waukesha", so-called because he was the inventor of the first solid-body electric guitar,known as the Gibson, and also the inventor of multi-track recording among other things.

Apparently, all the people we had been seeing in the cemetary were fans looking for the burial site to pay tribute to the "Wizard" and this woman had assumed that we were there for that reason as well. She must have noticed our evident confusion, so we quickly explained that we lived nearby and often walked in the cemetary and had clear forgotten about the famous person who had recently been buried there. At this point it was her turn to give us a rather strange look; I'm sure she probably did not know many people who walked in cemetaries as a recreational activity.
We told her that during our recent wanderings that evening we hadn't noticed any "fresh" burials, but admitted we hadn't really been looking either, but if we did find it and we saw her again, we'd certainly tell her.
As we walked away, E and I commented to each other on how strange a way to greet someone you came across in a cemetary with a cryptic "Did you find it?".
Then again, she might have found us just as strange, when we told her that we "come here all the time"!

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