Sunday, April 20, 2008

I Saw A Man Engraving...

The batteries in my camera died while I was taking photos of headstones recently. I heard another vehicle park near me while replacing the batteries and looked to see if it someone I knew. It was just a MAV (mother's assault vehicle or mini-van to most of you) with a small trailer behind it.

The driver was obviously reading something on a clipboard, so I went back to work on my photo project rather than stopping to say hello.

Twenty minutes later I heard a compressor start running and looked up to see the man sitting on the lawn taping a template to the blank side of a headstone that I'd photographed earlier. Engraving headstone

The lawn was missing on that side of the stone and it was evident that a burial had recently occurred there.

The sandblasting dust was soon visible but within a short period of time all was quiet again in that hollowed place. The basic facts about a person had been etched in stone and the engraver was gone.

I stopped by the stone on the way back to my vehicle to read the new information. The name was listed along with birth and death dates. The basic facts told me little about the man they described. However, some new additional script was more reveling.

In flowing prose below the dates, new text said "Beloved and Devoted Husband". It was a counterbalance to the text under the wife's name which read 'Beloved and Darling Wife'. New to both sides of the stone were the words "Grandpa" and "Grandma".

Who had created the phrases listed on the headstone? Obviously, the husband was responsible for the phrase below his wife's name, but who was responsible for the phrase below his name? It could have been his children or grandchildren, but I had the distinct impression that the words had been given as instruction to children by their mother to be included on their father's side of the stone after he had passed.

A story is now written in stone for their descendant to read as they visit the graves of their deceased loved ones. Grandma and grandpa loved each other. They were beloved, devoted and darling. It is a legacy as precious as gold to their children and descendants.

I love to walk through cemeteries and read the inscriptions on the markers. Histories of families, towns, areas are often pieced together as I move from stone to stone.

Today, we see many new headstones with photos of the deceased embedded or engraved in the stone along with pictures of their occupation, hobbies or interests in life. In days gone by the images usually reflected symbols of faith in the resurrection, warnings of death and even amusing phrases.

My favorite engravings have only been on the scene for a dozen or so years in my experience. The back side of upright stones show the pedigree charts of the individuals memorialized on the front side. Now what genealogist wouldn't love to see that information?

In essence, the charts say, "read about me on the other side, but here's how I fit into the fabric of my family. I was in "this' family in this place at this time."

Memorial Day is coming soon. Don't forget to take your camera with you while you visit the burial locations of your own families and friends. Take photos for your own ancestral records and take a few more and post them on Find-a-grave and Footnote as a Pay-It-Forward gesture.

Also, take a few minutes to walk around and read the stories written in stone while you are there. Once you've done so, you'll never see the cemetery in the same way again. The familiar sight of engraved names and dates will be enhanced with stories, expressions and history. You'll become a part of that community of wonderful people because their stories will continue on in your heart and mind.

If you are like me, in every subsequent visit to the cemetery, you'll take just a little more time to stop by and say 'hi' to some of your new friends or at least clean the dust and lawn clippings off of their markers just to show your respect. Friends do that for each other.