It was not what I expected to do on an Easter Sunday evening.
We had worshiped, feasted and rested. Our hearts and bellies were full with celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Who knew as the sun was setting we’d be walking among the dead and rejoicing over life.
An evening visit to my hometown on Easter Sunday led us to Rose Hill Cemetery. Dad spent several years as keeper of the cemetery grounds and records. It was his very favorite job among the many he’s held in his 85 years, and he knows the layout of this beautiful resting place like the back of his hand. (He did, in fact, survey and map out a portion of the cemetery. He also gave walking tours as part of the Tombstone Trail, an organized trek through 10 cemeteries in northeast Indiana.)
On this beautiful spring evening, we were there to see the stone bench he and Mom have placed on the site where they will be buried. It’s a lovely, black marble piece of art that is engraved with icons depicting their character and interests. A drawing of the Virgin Mary with a coiled rosary reflects Mom’s deep Catholic roots. Dad’s military service is honored with a sketch of the B-52 bomber that carried him in its belly for tours across the United States during his peacetime enlistment.
We inspected the beautiful piece and listened to Dad explain that the bomber’s wings were a little short. He half-jokingly mentioned bringing a dremel tool to the cemetery to correct the problem. Ever the fixer-upper.
Venturing into the older parts of the rolling burial grounds, we found stones bearing the names of my great-grandparents and other individuals who contributed to my hometown’s history. As we walked and drove the winding pathways, familiar names passed before us. Prickett, Moorhouse, Black, Brazzell, Young — families whose lives were entwined with mine during my growing up years in this small town.
Far off, the Lutheran Church downtown chimed the hour, and suddenly I was transported back to summer evenings spent playing among the tombstones.
One particular summer — perhaps the BEST summer of my youth because that’s what memories do for us — a group of my school friends organized “kick-the-can” contests on side streets downtown. This crazy game of hide-and-seek that we played with great passion helped fill our summer evenings — and sometimes led us to the cemetery where the tombstones made perfect hiding spots.
A few years later, some high school chums had the great idea to make a late night visit to the cemetery — maybe to relive our “youth”, or maybe just because it was something to do.
We loaded ourselves into a couple of cars and drove across town to the cemetery gate. The stone markers propped against the night sky had a chilling effect. We parked the car behind some trees and, hearts racing, scrambled across the cemetery for a commemorative game of hide-and-seek. Exuberant in our innocence (drugs and alcohol were not part of our social lives, at least not openly), our voices rang out into the night — and carried across the road to my uncle’s house.
Uncle Joe was my “cool” uncle. A handsome former high school basketball star, he was my favorite uncle. But he now had a wife and a young family, and they were the unofficial guardians of Rose Hill Cemetery.
Soon, headlights appeared at the entrance to the cemetery. Uncle Joe had called the town cops. We were busted.
A few brave souls took off, but I promptly and obediently came out from behind the tombstone hiding spot in response to the policeman’s call. He gathered those he could find and hauled us to the police station, where our names were written down and parents were called. I realize now that he had to be fighting back a chuckle as he took in our fear-struck faces and contrite countenance.
On an Easter Sunday evening, back among the tombstones, it’s somehow comforting to walk among the dead and to recall moments that speak to me of Life.