Being raised by my grandmother had advantages that derived from her age, her approach to living, her attitudes about God and politics, and other attributes she had. Age brought aspects that challenged your approach to life pretty fast as a child. Grandma was 62 when I was born and I lived with her until my first marriage at age twenty-two.
When Samuel, my grandson, was born, his maternal grandpa (me) was 66. Samuel’s mom was one year younger than my mom when I was born. Those facts had not occurred to me before that my grandma was younger than me when her first grandchild was born (me) – and 62 always seemed fairly well along at my birth for my grandma. The difference, though – and a big difference – is that my grandma at age 62 took up my rearing’s responsibilities for the most part that evolved into full time caring. She raised me. How she did that escapes me. Thankfully, Samuel has parents taking up that responsibility. The dogs are enough duty for this guy.
By my early teens, many of my grandma’s friends, or so it seemed, started to pass away. There were relatives who died as well, like one of my uncles at my age thirteen. The only recollection of seeing him was after he was diagnosed with what I was told was colon cancer (his death certificate just popped up in Ancestry recently and it was bladder cancer). And it seems that all of grandma’s relatives and friends were at Conkle Funeral Home in Speedway, Indiana – about a block or two from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In my youth, that funeral home became very familiar. Funeral processions were as well. And grave-side services at times. The knowledge of death from the general view was well known. At that age there was not a lot of understanding of the financial aspects and other “behind the scenes” particulars of funerals. My only experience related to that was regarding my son many years later.
Visits then to cemeteries as a part of or after funerals was kind of routine as a kid. Some are more easily remembered than others for whatever reason. Shiloh, in Hendricks County, Indiana, was the “family” cemetery. Four of my grandma’s six children are buried there as well as my mom, my uncle who had bladder cancer, my grandma, and my grandpa. My grandpa died about seven years prior to my birth – to have known him would have been good for me. And we visited the cemetery often. Besides the respectful nature of those visits were mushroom discovery, dandelion picking (for salad greens), and other exploration.
In addition to the family cemetery, there was Floral Park in Indianapolis, a final resting place for several, including another uncle. And grandma had us visit other cemeteries out near Jamestown, Pittsboro, and other small towns in the northern Hendricks County area. There never was a picnic involved with the short trips out that way.
The casual visitations, as it seemed back then, somehow created an interest in cemeteries that remains to this day. And visiting cemeteries on vacations has been normal. The best on a vacation might have been Sleepy Hollow near Boston. Among those buried there are Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. Then there was Old Bennington in Vermont (Robert Frost is buried there), the churches in Boston (the Presidents John and John Quincy Adams are there), Arlington in Virginia (JFK, RFK, so many others), and Crown Hill in Indianapolis (Benjamin Harrison, three US Vice Presidents, James Whitcomb Riley, many others). Charleston, SC, has people from the old days there in a cemetery adjacent to a church. Key West has a great cemetery with some really unusual gravestones – one resembling a conch shell. Bloomington, Indiana, has Rose Hill (Hoagy Carmichael is one buried there). Grand Haven, Michigan, has Lake Forest, the first one where the dogs walked with me a lot. Then there were ones in DeWitt (MI), Dublin, Kilkenny, London, Oxford, and other places.
I never took a lot of notes – maybe a few pictures more recently. I’m uncertain there is a book to be written from all of these visits. As for me, part of me would want a burial, part of me would want cremation (and placed in a plot for urns maybe at a cemetery), and most of me doesn’t care much. Others will have to deal with that as I will no longer be around to offer an opinion.
Life is good – at that point, life had been good…