Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wandering Among the Dead

If the cemetery has a name, I couldn’t see it on the only sign visible from the street. It was merely meant to inform visitors of its hours and rules for placing flowers on the graves. It’s doubtful there are many visitors these days other than one like me who spent his lunch break from teaching wandering among the dead rather than interacting with the living. I’ve always felt more at home with ghosts. It’s a small graveyard, easy to overlook unless you stumble upon it while roaming about on foot. The last burial probably took place no earlier than the 1940s. Of the hundred or so tombstones, many tell sketchy tales of lives cut short long before their time.

Raymond Mallet was born in 1900, and passed on only 16 years later. “Gone But Not Forgotten,” the stone reads, but I wonder how true that is now, almost a century later?

Mallet was an ancient soul when he left the earth compared to Karl Hoff whose marking bears the word “Son” and the years 1887-1888.

May Youngmen entered life in 1915 and left it swiftly in 1916.

One of the biggest headstones memorializes the Osterlan family: Christian 1829-1909, Charlotte, his wife, 1830-1908, and Augusta, wife of Wm. Engelhardt, 1855-1889. On the stone’s reverse side are more names – William, 1858-1865, Karl, 1863-1866, Edward, 1866-1891, and Louise, 1820-1871. These names are likely those of Osterlan children, one of whom made it to 51 and another to 25, while the others were cut down in childhood, one living only to age seven, another to age three, and one making it through one year or less.

What explains so many early deaths? Life expectancy for males at the start of the 20th century was only 47 years. For women, it was 50. I suspect influenza or inadequate medical care was the culprit, but what does it matter? There's no such thing as a survivor in this life. Some of us endure longer than others, but no one survives.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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