Tales from the grave…

“Each of us has a story to tell.  So do they.  Come hear them speak for themselves…”

And we did.

Loaded Mom, and my cousin, S, into the car and drove a few hundred miles to attend the “Voices of…” living history event, held in the old cemetery in Mom’s hometown.  My cousin, L, had told us about this during our “Cousins Weekend” last August.

A crew of volunteer researchers from the local historical society, some writers, and a cast of performers have pulled this together for the past four years.  The scripts had to be factual.  The individuals must ‘reside’ in the cemetery.  Ten new stories each year.

i’d had to keep this one to an overnight, due to other obligations.  This was a bit aggressive for Mom, not used to such whirlwind travel.  We’d settled into our hotel rooms by mid-afternoon, and managed to take a brief siesta before dinner.

For a woman who constantly complains about her failed vision, and difficulty walking, she can absolutely haul ass when you put her in the parking lot of her favorite barbecue restaurant on earth.  She didn’t have to ask for help reading the fine print on the menu, either…

From dinner, to the cemetery for the main event.

It was pretty brilliant.  We climbed onto the hay wagon that would take us on our tour just as the sun dropped behind the horizon.  Getting my 83-year old Momma on that wagon wasn’t easy, but she was game.

Stopping at the first location, the tractor was silenced.  Two men appeared from the dark, carrying lanterns.  Telling their tales from opposing sides of a skirmish fought during the Civil War.  It was brief, and compelling.

We continued on, hearing more tales.  Well scripted and well told.  Not sure what i’d expected from this small town troupe, but i was blown away.

As our tour came to an end, the narrator riding on our wagon said “None of us will live forever.  Only our stories will live on.  What will yours be?”

From the cemetery, we headed back to the hotel for the night. Lying in bed, i listened to Mom’s light snores underneath the blast of the television – she can only sleep with the television on for company.

She just turned 83.  She’s got a bad ticker, and the respiratory system of a woman who smoked like a fiend for 65 years.  She was diagnosed with lung cancer at the beginning of this year.

We’re at the “Two Minute Warning”.

The next morning, i woke up to the sounds of her snores.  Relieved to hear them, actually. She was getting up and dressed, as i prepared to do my push-ups.  Five sets.  i rest between sets.  Sometimes for many minutes.  She didn’t understand the process.

Mom:  Why are you getting dressed?  I only counted four sets!

daisyfae [tongue clenched between teeth]: i’m resting.  Figured i’d run down to the breakfast bar and get you a bagel before i do the final set…

We had a nice brunch with local family before heading out to drive the 300 miles home.  As my cousin and mother chatted about various bits of family history, i couldn’t help but wonder “How would Mom tell her story?”

to be continued….

30 thoughts on “Tales from the grave…

  1. With good scripting and good readers/storytellers, this sort of son et lumiere is brilliant.
    Do you think your mother might leave you a few notes to work with?

    • She’s unlikely to write anything down. Can barely see to write her checks every month — not due to degraded eyesight, but her eyelids are heavy, and she can’t keep her eyes open. frustrating that she won’t consider the surgery to correct this – instead, she gets quarterly botox injections that help temporarily.

      So we’re doing some ‘interviews’, and taking notes…

  2. That sounds a really fascinating way to spend a weekend. I would love to attend one. How would you tell your mother’s story – since she won’t be here to dictate how it comes out? And if it comes to that, how would you like your own told?

    • i know how i would tell it. there are glimpses of it here in the archives. she is bitter. life wasn’t good to her. that’s how she’s always been. but her heart is good, and she’s done the best she could with what she had to work with…

      mine? very briefly: “She was a good time”

    • my view of it is a bit grim. we’re going to try to tease out some of the other details. the ride home in the car was the start, with my cousin and i asking questions about the family history. we learned some things…

  3. I absolutely love the Tales from the Grave idea, sounds like a brilliant production. Waiting patiently (because if I’ve learned nothing else in the hills, I’ve learned Portuguese-style patience) for the next chapter!

    • may take me some time. it’s also still a work in progress. through some bit of randomness, mom (as a child) witnessed an event that is of national signifigance, and is likely the only living witness. she’s been interviewed by someone writing a book, and there’s talk about trying to get the tale on video… i need to figure out how to present this tale here… pretty damn fascinating…

  4. Waitaminute. We’re not going to live forever? But there’s so much to do.

    Perhaps you can drag her on one of your diving expeditions. Maybe you’d be surprised. My mom had selective hearing loss. We think she took in a lot more than she ever let on.

    • sorry. if you want to live forever, you might take your chances hanging out with those creepy and annoying little goth teens, who pretend to be vampires. maybe they can hook you up…

      mom does have a lucid mind. the fact that she makes bad decisions sometimes is consistent with her behavior when she was young, so i’m not sure she’s lost much mental faculty. she tracks far more than she lets on….

  5. I would love to take part in something like that, but as far as I know we have nothing of the sort in this area. My husband takes me around to all the little country cemeteries though, and I like to take in the quiet, read the headstones, and let my mind wander as to who these people were and what kind of a life they led. I find the history of families especially fascinating.
    Treasure these moments with your mama. I lost mine when she was just 63 to lung cancer. I was only 26 and wasn’t able to enjoy the bulk of my adult years with her. Sadly, you don’t really appreciate them, their knowledge, or wisdom, until you’re an adult. I feel now that there was so much ‘wasted’ time I could’ve shared with her.
    Looking forward to reading the …rest of the story. 🙂

    • i’ve always enjoyed cemeteries… kinda puts everything into perspective, doesn’t it? and wondering about the lives of the folks planted is a favorite pass time.

      i’m trying to spend more time with Mom. We don’t see eye to eye on many things, and have very little in common other than our genetics and shared history. But she’s my Mom. And the clock ticks ever more loudly. Sorry you lost your Mom at such an early age…

  6. You are such a nice daughter! Here is a giant hug – HUG! That was just awesome of you. It sounds pretty cool, too. I wish they did something like that around here. Nice time of year for it, too!

    I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s cancer. That just sucks. It doesn’t matter how old our parents are – it’s still unbelievable awful to think about losing them. We had a stomach cancer scare with my dad, and I couldn’t believe how quickly I devolved into a 5 year old girl sucking her thumb and saying, “I want my Daddy!”

    • not a great daughter. far from it. but i’m trying… the cancer was found early, and accidently. they blasted her with stereotactic radiation (targeted at the tumor) and think they got it stopped. won’t know more for another 6 months or so, but the radiologist was optimistic. hope your dad is ok…

  7. Cancer sucks!

    We DO all have our own stories ….. and most are fascinating!
    Hearing people’s stories was my favorite part of working in a nursing home.
    I could sit for hours and listen to our lucid residents talk about their lives; where they lived, what they saw, the history they were involved in …. *sigh*
    That stuff is like a drug for me!
    I LOVE IT! lol

    I’m quite intrigued by your Mothers witnessing of a national event.
    QUITE intrigued! lol

    I will be patient and wait for the stor(ies)y to unfold, I’ve got time! 🙂

    • you’ve reminded me that it’s not only the stories of the dead that can be fascinating… there are plenty of folks still kicking who have tales to tell. i’m trying to figure out a way to tell mom’s tale without giving away my cousin, the journalist, in the process. they are not participants in this blogging thing, and i need to respect privacy…

  8. How cool is that? Wow. We have an old city cemetery here that dates back to 1846 when Germans founded our community. They often have guided tours, but this would be something else again, especially since we have a very active theater group.

    You are the bestest daughter ever.

    • well, in your copious amounts of free time, you could get something going! ok. stop laughing now! i was kidding! i’m still tossing around trying to do this locally, but am a bit daunted at how much the effort would interfere with my regularly scheduled farting around…

      not a great daughter. but one that can tell time…

  9. A speaker for the dead. Every cemetery should have one. Maybe someday they will.
    “Do you plan on being buried here? Fill out this survey. No, it’s a requirement. It goes in the kiosk so your descendants will know who you were. Sure, you can lie about it.”

    • i like that idea! before we die, we record our own story, and when someone walks up to the headstone, we can tell it to them. i think i’d just say “hey, asshole! watch where you step!”

  10. I can almost hear the typical Ken Burns music playing as the camera pans the tiny cemetery. As I read this I got chills as it really is re-awakened history. I’ve often gone on walks in my home town cemetery when I’m in town. It’s like visiting old friends and simple reminders of who was.

    • My cousin, L, knows this cemetery well. She’s been walking it daily with her dogs for decades, and knows the nuances of the headstones, and many of the stories. the next time i visit? i’m going to build in time to take a very long walk with her there!

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