Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Grandmother's Grave

Last week I wrote in The Cemetery Traveler about visiting the graves of my Mom’s “lost” siblings (see link at end to revisit that story). This week will be a continuation of that odyssey. On the same day, after visiting Evergreen Cemetery in Shavertown, Pennsylvania, where my mom’s two brothers and sister are buried, my mom, my brother Tim, and I drove across the Susquehanna River into one of the south Wilkes-Barre suburbs, Hanover, to visit her mom’s (my grandmother) grave.

Anna Jones does not have a gravestone. According to my mom, my deceased father didn’t want to spend the money. So all we had to go on for locating her grave in Hanover Green Cemetery was my mom’s memory and a deed to a double plot. If memory failed, we could ask in the office. Why did we not know where it was? My father was not interested in my mother’s family and actually would not allow her to visit her mother’s grave. I don’t know how long it had been since my mother was last here – but my grandmother died in 1964. 

Zinc Memorial at Hanover Green
After driving around in the rain to the area in which my mom thought the grave was, we gave up as she did not recall any familiar landmarks. I myself had some notion that I had been there before, but you know me – my memory’s so good I can remember things whether they happened or not. So I grabbed the deed and told my mom and brother I would go ask in the office. My mom said she could never do that, afraid that the office workers might think, “What kind of daughter is this? She doesn’t even know where her own mother is buried!  I told her not to worry, that I’d go in by myself with the deed and find out. 

I had never examined a deed to a grave before. I found it interesting that the cost of the two side-by-side plots in 1964 was only $150! One hundred dollars for the graves and fifty for perpetual care. In comparison, in case you're wondering, forty-eight years later in 2012 a plot at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia will set you back $5,000!

The fellow behind the desk was very helpful and accommodating. I showed him the deed and he began looking it up in his computer database. I strolled over to a big plot map on the wall and located the two plots in question, # 1017 and 1018. I pointed this out to him but he dismissed the map as being inaccurate. After about ten minutes, he pinpointed the plots and led me outside. It was raining, so he sprinted across the grounds and we were to follow after I collected my mom and brother Tim from the car (Tim graciously chauffeured us around all that day).

My Mom at Hanover "Green"
Upon our arrival, we found the cemetery guy standing on a large open spot covered in ratty brown grass. Not a very picturesque place. He said, “I knew where the spot was because of the plots next to yours.” We thanked him and he returned to the office. My mom said she thought he would be “old and bent over.” “Sort of a John Carradine-type character?” I asked. She laughed and agreed. Life is full of irony and contradictions (take Red Bull smoothies, for instance).

Brother Tim and our Mom
We didn’t spend much time there, as there was nothing to see but the ground under which my grandmother was buried. My mom said, “I remember you could see houses down the hill from her grave, so this must be it.” She told me later that she said a little prayer as we began to walk away. 

I don’t know what the prayer was, but it just might have been answered − as we headed back to the car, we looked up under our rain-soaked umbrellas and saw the cemetery guy running toward us with a big rolled-up map in his hand. He stopped before us and said, “I’m sorry, that’s not your mother’s plot.” Ouch. Though the photo below wasn't taken at that moment, my brother's look of surprise shows how we all must have felt!

"You showed us the wrong grave ...?"
He told us he would take us to the correct spot so we followed him across the cemetery in the car, back to the original area where my mom thought the grave was! Which, coincidentally, was the same area the map on the wall showed. So much for databases. I was a bit perturbed, but still, we would not have found it without him. He explained the mistake in the database and apologized again.

Here’s a photo of the double plot, with the cemetery worker standing on Anna's grave. Doesn't look like much, but it now has deep meaning for all of us. We stood there for a few minutes after he left, and I asked my mom if she’d like to get a stone made for her mother’s grave. She replied, “Maybe a small one – they’re so expensive.” So I’ll look into that. 

I pretty much spent the first six years of my life with my grandmother Anna - she died when I was six. I kind of remember the viewing and funeral. My father worked in the mines at the time and my mother worked in a factory, so my mom would drop me off at my grandparents’ apartment every morning. I really liked spending the day with them, Anna and Daniel, Grandma and Grandpop  – I even remember the layout of their apartment. I had a big bag of toys by the television. My mom said that Anna treated me like a king. I was their only grandchild. My brother was born shortly before she died in 1964. Our sister Donna Lee was born in 1966, so she never knew Anna. Before we left Anna’s grave, my mom said, “I’m glad she got to hold Tim before she died.” 

Plaque at Hanover Green
I like Hanover Green Cemetery. It's low key and in a pleasant, quiet neighborhood. The cemetery’s founding pre-dates the Declaration of Independence by a month – June 9, 1776 – which I think will make it a fitting final resting spot for my mom when the time comes. In a way, a final declaration of her own independence from my father, who is buried twenty miles away.

Related Link:
"Graves of Lost Siblings" blog posting