“Did you ever think when the hearse went by,
perhaps you’ll be the next to die;
they’ll wrap you up in a cold white sheet,
and bury you down six feet deep.”
–The Hearse Song
When I was a child, my aunt taught me The Hearse Song, or at least a version of it. To me it was never presented as a song; it was a poem and it was just meant to be a creepy little funny saying. And it really was; as a child I loved to say it, and in the creepiest little Count Dracula voice I could muster. What it did however, was created in me the opposite effect of what it probably has done to others. I fell in love with cemeteries.
Cemeteries do not frighten me. I do not fear them, I do not think they are creepy, and I actually find them very peaceful. Unlike many people’s perceptions however, I also don’t equate cemeteries with death. Cemeteries are history. Cemeteries are stories waiting to be told. Each stone is a lasting monument to a real human being. A person, flesh and blood, sweat and tears, like you and I.
Look at the marker in the picture. I intentionally found it through a random online search. I don’t know where it is located. I don’t know if the cemetery is small, large, or even perhaps just a family cemetery. Here is what I do know: It marks the final resting place of Lucy Blanchard. Lucy served as a nurse in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. She was already in her early 40’s when the war started, and she lived to an impressive (especially given the late 19th and early 20th centuries) age of 90.
Lucy was a very real human being. She was somebodies child who probably swam in creeks or swimming holes and played hide-n-seek with friends and siblings when she was young. Maybe she grew up on a farm. Maybe not. I don’t know if Lucy was ever married nor had children. I would like to believe she did. Married or not, she undoubtedly knew how to love and received love from those around her. She probably had her fair share of suitors, and might even have had a few detractors. Was her hair blonde, red, brown, black? I don’t know. Color of her eyes? I don’t know. That I don’t know doesn’t make her less real. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t hold a place in the history of our world.
Can I infer anything about Lucy. I think so. Lucy was a caring woman. She didn’t have to act as a nurse during the Civil War. Women weren’t drafted; but she did. Knowing Lucy was a Civil War nurse, we also know that she witnessed countless horrors: Minie balls fired from muskets created horrible wounds, cannon and mortar fire tore limbs away. She must have witnessed field amputations and surgery where there simply wasn’t sufficient, if any, anesthetic. I am sure she watched brave, young men who fought for their country waste away and die of infection from their wounds and of rampant disease. Lucy saw things that we simply cannot imagine.
I love history. I am fascinated by it and I am moved to know that I might trod the same ground or touch the same walls and door handles that people touched 100 years ago. It’s all very innocuous, just another day in passing, and yet we cross paths with the past all the time. I want to know more about the people – not the famous people, but the everyday worker, father, mother, brother, and so on and so forth. History tells the stories of the famous, but it’s the non-famous, the average person, who really makes the history, who really tells the story.
I wish when I knelt at a grave I could talk to the inhabitant. Not in a creepy way. I’m not looking for a Stephen King experience. One clean pair of underwear a day suffices just fine. I just want to ask them about their life. What did they do? Where did they live? How did they celebrate their holidays? Were they married? Have kids? Where were they from? What made them laugh? I could spend hours asking and listening. People fascinate me (living ones too). I want to know their stories. I would love to write their stories. I believe the saddest thing is when you visit a cemetery and you see the graves of the forgotten. I wish I could help them be remembered.
I call my blog the “Senseless Ramblings Blog.” If you made it this far, then you have truly experienced one of my senseless ramblings. It is what it is and I hope you enjoyed it.
I dedicate this piece to little Romona Keaggy; she’s another story for another day.
All the best!