Next to a day in a library or court house, I love nothing more than spending a day wandering around a cemetery. After Wisconsin's long, dark winter days, I look forward to the annual Memorial Day cemetery visits to our family members graves.
Having Lunch With The Family
My childhood summers were filled with activities: summer camp, extended visits with my cousins and long, lazy weeks spent with my grandparents. While I had to share my paternal grandparents with several cousins, my most memorable visits where the ones my sister and I got to spent "alone" with our grandparents. I loved reading books on the front porch and wandering around the upstairs (being careful to avoid the broken spindle in the railing) but especially looking at the photographs on my grandmother's dressing table. In the past I've written about the sadness surrounding my grandma and grandpa Bergeron with the death of their oldest son, my uncle Earle Bergeron. Sometimes - not often - I accompanied my Grandpa Charlie on his weekly trip to the cemetery in Aniwa, where Earle is buried - those visits were always quiet (the grandchildren were all frightened of Grandpa Charlie except for my sister Lisa.). Had I known that as an adult I would become obsessed with his family history, I would have filled those trips with nonstop questions.
Visits to my maternal grandparents also included visits to cemeteries but those trips were much different. I recall Gram taking me "down the road" to visit the grave of Grandpa Harley's mother, Nancy Stone Space. At that time the grave was unmarked only with a rose bush but even at that, the reverence of it being a member of my family drew me like a magnet. While I walked (ran!) among the headstones, Gram would tell me stories of the people who were buried there.
But my favorite place to go with my Grandma Almas was to visit "the little girl."
When Gram had time and a trip to visit little Virginia was promised, I would go off to pick a bouquet of flowers - a bunch of fragrant purple lilacs, peonies from Gram's row of pink, white and red peony bushes or Tiger Lilies that grew around the old water pump - and we'd drive up to Forest View cemetery to visit the grave of Virginia. But that is another story.
Just like the sadness that surrounded my Grandmother Bergeron's room over the loss of Earle, that same sadness encloses me whenever I visit the Aniwa cemetery. I'm reminded of how young Earle was when he left home and the almost unconsolable loss that his death created in the family. I had never given any thought to the fact that there once was a time when Earle's grave was unmarked until a hint on Ancestry.com in the U.S. Headstone Application for Military Veterans 1925-1963 collection led me to the application my grandparents made to the government for a headstone.
The date of the application, June 28, 1948, is over five years from the date of Earle's death and according to records, three years from the time Earle's body had been returned to Wisconsin for burial.
I am struck by the beauty of my grandmother's penmanship and picture her holding the pen in her hand - the long fingers with her buffed fingernails - and wonder at the emotional cost of signing her name for the headstone application.