Yesterday I talked with a woman who was visiting the cemetery to clean her relatives’ headstones. See…I’m not the only person in Caddo who wanders around the cemetery early in the morning! The woman and I are old friends and we had a nice discussion about some of the people buried in Gethsemane.
It’s difficult sometimes to remember that each headstone, each name in the cemetery represents a real person, with a real life, and a real family. I know I seem to dwell on dead people, but I think it’s important to remember and respect the people who made it possible for us to live. And that often means learning the history of someone who was not a member of your own family. We would not have power and lights and roads and homes and stores if it were not for the hard work of the former residents of our community. People we know nothing about were the neighbors and friends and co-workers of our ancestors. I was reminded of that this week when I typed the obituary of someone and noticed their daughter was married to a member of our family!
As I’ve worked on photos and memorials for Find a Grave this past week I’ve been fascinated by the details that I’ve gleaned from funeral records. I’ve also retrieved the obituaries for some people and found out they died in tragic accidents or from violent actions and rampant diseases. Wagons and autos and machinery took the lives of many people. Shoot outs took several others. Typhoid, smallpox, and influenza once raged through parts of the country and destroyed whole families.
And patterns emerge when you look at the headstones of a couple hundred people. I know that many died in the same month they were born. I notice that many older couples died within months of each other. I am saddened to see that many mothers died with their newborns. I also know that many people are born, married, and die on holidays. Especially poignant are the deaths recorded for Christmas day and Valentine’s Day. I guess I am especially sensitive about that because my own mother died just before Thanksgiving and I remember how hard it was to be thankful without her. Sitting on my desk right now is the obituary of a young woman tragically killed in an auto accident on her way to visit her parents for Christmas. Her husband of three months lived. Real people, real lives.
The cemetery also contains the bodies of people who were considered “important” in our county- judges and sheriffs and attorneys and doctors. I recognize the names of several of the local businessmen and community leaders. There are also headstones for some of the hoodlums and bootleggers, murderers and thieves. The cemetery contains the remains of veterans from the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
I continue to work on all of these memorials because I think it is important for us to value the people who lived here before us and to be aware of how they lived and died.