Monday, November 29, 2010


While we were at the cemetery in Madera on Friday, I decided to take a walk around and look at the graves. I know it sounds like a sad or morbid thing to do but really, there are some wonderful stories to be drawn from the lives of some of the people who are buried. And most of them have to be written by the living, it seems, as what I found written on the headstones was not very enlightening.

Mary Searles and Emily Primmer are buried right next to each other. They both came from New York originally but are at rest here in Madera, California. Perhaps they were sisters who moved here together and lived to be 72 and 74. Emily lived until the year of the 1906 earthquake but there is nothing on these headstones to tell us which months they were born or died. We are left to our own imaginations to tell us about their lives.

Charlie Garner's headstone tells us a bit more. We are privy to when he was born and died and know that he lived only 55 short years. It looks as if he was a cellar master because that is written on his headstone but was he married? Did he have any children? Which winery was he a cellar master at? These are questions that arise for me as I wander the aisles of the cemetery.

I loved this person's name: Pinky. Not "short for" or anything. Just Pinky. But, again, no mention of her family, where she lived, what she did all her life, etc. She lived 73 years and there is no mention of how that 73 years was spent. Did she love to garden? Was she a wonderful cook? Maybe she liked to write short stories or poetry. With a name like Pinky I suspect whatever she did was quite "colorful" and done with a sense of humor.

Look at this headstone! This man fought in the Mexican war with the mounted infantry. He was 59 years old when he died. The Mexican war lasted from 1846-1848 in the wake of the U.S. annexation of Texas. So, John Pemberton was probably in his 20's when he served in this war. Notice there are no flowers at his grave. This is often the case at cemeteries. The people get buried there and then forgotten. I noticed lots of plastic flowers at graves which doesn't seem much better to me than nothing. There was one grave that someone had left a gorgeous orchid plant that I picked up and put back in the urn.

It looks as if the U.S. Government had relocated this husband and wife in 1971 but there was no mention of how old they were. It is nice that they were relocated and remembered but perhaps they were at Hidden Lake Site and it was an historical Indian burial site and sacred to them. I wonder.

This grave was marked as "unknown". Perhaps too degraded to determine sex, this person was moved and buried here with an unknown as a title. It seems so sad to me to live a life and then become known as "unknown". That is not really "knowing" someone is it! (Sorry about making your turn your head sideways. Google did not want to cooperate with me in this regard.)

Mr. and Mrs. Woo are buried next to each other. And, for those who can read their native language I'm sure there is much to be said about the two of them. All we know is the years of their births and deaths. No months; nothing in between those "dashes". We are at least given a photo to know what they looked like. I think that is a nice touch.

The De Leon's will be buried next to each other. Hipolito will be buried next to his wife Bernarda when he passes on. Until then, it looks as if her grave is visited by someone who cares enough to leave some flowers in remembrance. (Again, I apologize for the view.)

This grave site I found very interesting. It was a long, cement structure with small protrusions at the top. Below, you will see how these people were marked and remembered.

Not much information, right? No months, no days, no years, no names; only initials. We don't know if these were moved here, if this is their original burial sites, if they are mother, father, and children or husbands and wives. Perhaps it is two families because the last initials are both "S" and "B". And, absolutely no "dashes". To me, the life that we lead between the dashes is what is important. I read that someplace a few months ago. It struck me as quite a statement and one that so many of us don't take the time to think about. What will people say about us years later when they read our headstones? Will they remember the good things we did, the things that we loved while we were alive, the animals we shared our homes with, the jobs we did until we retired, the good food we cooked, the laughs we shared with others, the sadness we braved, and the life that we lead?

Writing is a way to leave something of "us" behind when we leave. We put down on paper (or computer discs or jump drives) our deepest thoughts, our loves, our proudest memories of our family and friends, and sometimes things that we are not so proud of. Sometimes we write things that we need to retract at a later date. Writing is a way of sharing part of us with others who do not know us. When people read our words they know what was important to us: it shows in our words.

I would encourage all of you to write what is in the deepest recesses of your minds and hearts for all to read; for all to read years after you are gone. Someone cannot know who you are unless you release those words that are trapped deep inside of you. If you don't write them all down (all the smallest details, the subtleties) they will be forever blank, as these graves and headstones are, left to those of us who travel to another town and just happen to visit the cemetery that you are buried at. I hope that I would be able to make a nice story for those of you who do not choose to leave the words and details behind. I would hope that someone would be able to "read" me and my life well too. After all: it is the way we live our life that we are remembered for. It is the life we lead between those dashes that is important.

As we were heading back on to the freeway, heading home, we were stopped at the last stop light before merging on to the freeway and this license plate is what caught my eye. How apropos for the afternoon.


  1. I don't think it's a morbid thing to do; I also like wandering around a cemetery reading the headstones and wondering about the lives of the departed. It's not something I do on a regular basis but if I'm away somewhere and a walk takes me by a cemetery, I'll go in. As you said, so many are forgotten and our visits are the only ones they get now, from strangers but at least they're getting thought of!

    Just the other day, it might have been on the plane flying home, I was thinking of putting down my thoughts in a separate letter to each of my loved ones. I'd like to think that they'd keep it forever.

    I've just noticed those skulls on that licence plate! How spooky that you came across that after leaving the cemetery!

  2. nice...first...the name pinky should be i so agree on the writing part...what we leave behind...

  3. Alaine--I, too, have been thinking of writing letters to those people whom I leave behind to let them know exactly what they meant to me. Great minds think alike! I started a journal for my granddaughter when she was born and have included photos, leaves from Autumns we have shared with each other, writings, etc. I admit that I have let time lapse a bit lately but I must get back to it because I feel that it will be important for her to read something in my own hand after I am gone. I called it "letters to Natalie". Life is a funny thing isn't it? When we are young, we don't think too much about "after" but the older we get, it becomes important to leave something of some value behind for those we care about. don't like the name Pinky? Have you ever watched Holmes on Homes on TV? One of his women workers is named Pinky and she always wears something pink in color. She is a really hard worker too. I am not adverse to that name. I find it kind of sweet in an odd sort of way. I had a grandmother named Brownie. Now that name: not so much. But, she was a sweet woman and since her real name was Viola Brown, Brownie became a name of affection. I have nothing but wonderful thoughts when I think of her.

  4. Oh what a treat this was....I am a fellow cemetary wanderer....I love to ponder the lives behind the names and dates...
    good job on this one Teri
    The best one I have wondered about were the graves
    marked...John and Mary Death

    ....and that was all...creepy

  5. It's incredibly sobering to think our lives boil down to just a slab with a name and date. I so agree with the advice to write!


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