Across the street from the old farmhouse where I was born lies a small graveyard, non-descript and hidden from view to the passerby. A gnarled horse-chestnut tree emerges from the blanket of periwinkle that creeps into the woods beyond the dilapidated fence marking the boundaries of the cemetery. Dates on the gravestones, some with beautiful engravings reminiscent of ancient Rome, others too eroded to read, range over a forty year span during the mid-1800s. The spectrum of human life is fully represented—from infant to teenager to adult, only a few of these folk reached a ripe old age.
Life was surely not easy up here on this scrappy windswept hill. In the late 70s, when my family moved here, we would consistently have two plus feet of snow on the ground during the winter months (that dwindled with the warming climate in the last decades). Once, when I was five, I declared I was running away from home. My mother packed me some snacks and wrapped them in a bandana on a stick. I marched across the street hobo style to the tilting red barn and hunkered down with the chickens. Now, where the barn once stood, is a field of goldenrod. Soon the encroaching forest will succeed in erasing memory of that barn.
I find a strange comfort in visiting this forgotten cemetery. As I contemplate the loss of my brother and father “before their time” I am reminded here that existence is delicate, that although today’s “life expectancy” means we may all expect to live to old age, that really we shouldn’t expect anything. Instead, I think, let me be grateful for what I have now and hope that I too may someday lie peacefully among these trees.
And so, when I make my regular visits back home to central New York, I pay heed to the gravestone of Silas B., aged 36 years, 4 months & 23 days:
“Stop traveller as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so must you be
Prepare for death and follow me.”