Tombstones

headstone - ohio

Photo by Patti Johnson

You cannot read without a tug at your heartstrings an inscription that honors and mourns a Beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. Or the grave marker of a war veteran who Gave his life so that others might live. Some are more stark but just as heartbreaking despite the lack of grammar skills by the stone carver: Last of his famly.

Tombstones

Wandering through rural cemeteries, like browsing the shelves of the fiction section of a small-town library, you come upon some “book covers” that hint at fascinating stories never to be read but forever teasing your imagination. Headstones, monuments, and cenotaphs stand in rows of somber tomes that recount the same theme and message: The gift of life arrives in a flash of fire, burns wildly through the short span of years, and is gone with a final flicker in our smoldering ash. All that remains is our story, and that is soon closed and put on the shelf.

Crudely carved in the face of soft stone that has become weathered and worn over the decades, a few barely readable epitaphs on tombstones in old churchyards give us a glimpse of life stories that deserve to be taken from the archives, dusted off, and read again – if only we could trust the writers to tell the tale in full and in truth. The headstones, leaning this way and that and no longer marking any obvious gravesites, promise some captivating stories of hardship, struggle, reward, love, kindness, loyalty, courage, friendship – all the noble attributes of humanity. And many of the disreputable ones.

You cannot read without a tug at your heartstrings an inscription that honors and mourns a Beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. Or the grave marker of a war veteran who Gave his life so that others might live. Some are more stark but just as heartbreaking despite the lack of grammar skills by the stone carver: Last of his famly.

A few of the more interesting appear to be someone’s best attempt to summarize a closing chapter:

Gone too soon

Kilt by his best horse

She culdnt swim

His time come

Died of a sudden

Others are in the mode of the “six-word short stories” that condense a complicated epic into a few syllables:

In town for a year now home

She loved to dance

No more sadness

The morbid streak in my sense of humor occasionally distorts the original meaning:

Home safe with Jesus  (I wonder: did he die when he scored on Jesus’s inside-the-park homer?)

To God we commend him  (Good to have a commendation on your final vitae.)

Missed by many  (But not by all.)

And one puts me in awe of the simpler faith of another century:

The Lord wanted her in heaven

I have no expectation that my own book cover will end up on these shelves, having left instructions where my ashes are to be scattered when I escape this mortal coil and my earthly remains are to be returned to dust. But if someone were to surreptitiously place a small stone in some remote North Country woodland I could think of no better inscription than that etched in Latin on an ancient piece of granite in a private graveyard on a hilltop farm:

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via

“There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.”

______________________________________________________

More stories about life in the North Country are published in my three collections of essays and two novels, all available through my Author Page on Amazon.com Jerry Johnson Author Page

 

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About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer; indifferent wing shot. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Novelist and short story writer. Freeholder: 50-acre farm with 130-year-old log house. Husband, father, grandfather. Retired teacher, coach, mentor. Vicious editor. Blogger.
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One Response to Tombstones

  1. Pingback: Monday Mayhem: Happy May Day! | michellekubitz

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