1960: My sister, my cousins, and I scrambled into the back of my uncle’s 1948 Ford pick-up and headed with our fathers to the cemetery overlooking the dusty town of Globe, Arizona. We played among the graves while they watered the grass and pulled weeds at the small, flat grave of my grandfather, marked with a plain granite stone: “Father/Raymond Bozzola/1894-1946.” The soil there was inhospitable to flowers, but it must have welcomed dill; now, when I open a jar of dill weed, the aroma magically transports me to that dry, prickly place of stone and tumbleweed where I spent so many evenings in the long, lazy summers of my childhood.
2007: My first date with my then-student, now-husband took place at another, more verdant cemetery, Oakwood in Raleigh, North Carolina. We sat on a pink blanket and shared a picnic lunch. He ran his fingers through my hair, and then we strolled together from cross to obelisk to angel amidst a riot of lush greens and deep pinks. It was April in the South–time and clime hospitable to grass and flower and fragrant trees.
Between and since those remembered flashes of sight and smell, I have spent many more hours roaming and pondering and photographing in cemeteries across several states. Art, history, spirituality, and story–I have found them all in cemeteries ranging from small family plots hidden in cornfields to those of the rural or garden variety that flourished in the mid-19th century across the Eastern United States.
I find solace and inspiration in the scriptures, the poetry, and even the kitsch with which people adorn the resting places of their loved ones. I find tragedy in the rows of graves too small, with dates too close together, all bearing the same family name. I remember hope and joy when I fleetingly hear the words of the Book of Common Prayer: “Yet even at the gave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”