Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Shovel On His Shoulder

I was out on the front lawn playing with my dog when I heard someone whistling. Looking up, I saw my great uncle Si Bennett walking down the road toward our house with a shovel over his shoulder.

He wore his old sweat stained Stetson hat, bib overalls and work boots. I don't think he stood much over five foot five or six inches tall.

Bennett_Si Dark hair, hands like knurled oak brush roots and a face with canyons on it in place of wrinkles finished the picture. One of the old-time standards could be heard coming from his puckered lips as I watched his eyes latch onto the six year old boy ahead.

Nodding to me and asking how I was this fine morning, I had to ask although I already knew the answer; "Going up on the cemetery to dig a grave Uncle Si?"

"Yep!" I don't remember who he told me had died, but he was headed up to hand dig the grave.

The Alpine cemetery is really just a big hill comprised of mostly granite sand and small round rocks that were deposited by Lake Bonneville thousands of years ago.

Digging graves in that hard dry soil was difficult at best. Si's once pointed shovel attested to that. The blade wasn't much more than half as long as it was when it was new and it was worn closer to a square nose than a 'good' digging shovel should be.

Si didn't have the money to buy a new shovel, but he cared about treating the dead with respect. Irregardless of the difficulty of opening the grave, it would be ready before the funeral party arrived that day.

I don't know how many graves uncle Si opened and closed on that hill but the count was high. He opened the graves for his parents, several of his siblings including my grandmother and grandfather, several nieces as well as many friends and town folks.

Si and his wife Alberta spent many days pouring through old burial records finding information on those buried on the hill with no markers. Over the years, they identified most of their final resting places and properly recorded them in the sextons burial records for the cemetery.

Later in life Si used to like to sit by the coal stove in the kitchen in the evenings to read and nap a little before going to bed for the night.

One evening his youngest daughter came home from a date and noted that her father must have just nodded off because the rocker was still slightly moving.

Virginia went into her parents bedroom to tell her mother about her date and to visit for a few minutes. Aunt Alberta said "Tell your dad to get up and come to bed or he'll be too stiff to get up".

Virginia shook Si's shoulder and delivered the message but received no response. Uncle Si had peacefully stepped out of his body and moved on.

Si and Alberta are buried in the Alpine Cemetery now. The records they so carefully kept are now part of the official city burial records for the cemetery. Alpine_graves_sm

Partly to honor their service, I've spent time taking photos of every headstone in the cemetery and have created records for the deceased they represent on

I saw uncle Si's respect for the dead over and over as a youth. Some of it must have rubbed off on me.

How about you? What acts of kindness have you witnessed that have become imprinted on your personalities? How many of your characteristics are rubbing off on your family and those who know you?

We all just Pay-it-forward don't we? Try to to find an act of random genealogical kindness that you can perform for someone today. It counts. Guaranteed!


TheGeneticGenealogist said...

What a great story, and what a great way to honor your relative!