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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reflections In A Cemetery

Last night my wife and I participated in a local event at the city cemetery.  For the last seven years the local history museum has organized walking tours through the cemetery with actors portraying people buried there, telling stories of a bit of the history in the area.  This was the first year that my wife and I were actors, having been given the opportunity through our involvement in the local community theater groups.

My character was Augustus Foute.  He and his three brothers fought in the Civil War, lost his arm in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, and afterwards he settled down in this area and became a judge at the city court.  I was standing next to his grave all night and had the opportunity to study his family as well as neighboring graves.  The grave with the oldest known date in the cemetery dates to 1844, but there are unmarked graves that likely date earlier. 

As many readers know, I'm a big history buff.  And one of the things I enjoy most about history is the daily lives of the people.  How did people live in a given time period?  What they do day-to-day?  What did they do for work and for fun?  Because of my slant on history, I've always been kind of interested in graveyards, reading the headstones and tombs and wondering about their lives.  For example, Foute married in 1875 and had two children buried there who each lived only a year.  He married his wife when she was 29, rather old for that time period.  My wife's character was from the same time period and married when she was 36, an old maid by standards of the time.  She died after a year and a half of marriage and her husband never remarried.  What were the lives of these people like?  How did they get by after the deaths of their children?  Did the husband of my wife's character love her so much that he could never bear to be with another woman again?  Foute fought in many battles during the war, and though he lost an arm he lived a long life.  What was it like to pick up and start a life, working for the legal system in a country that he fought to prevent?

Yes, you can get a bit melancholy in a cemetery, contemplating your own mortality among the graves.  What will my grave say?  Where will it be?  In 150 years will I have someone portraying me in a historical reenactment?  What will they know and remember about me?  But at the same time, I find that places like that can be very life-affirming.  Foute went on to be very successful after a brutal war and the loss of young children early in his marriage.  The grave sites around me held several generations of people, showing that life continued.  And we were remembering and honoring the lives and memories of these people who thought dead, were not forgotten.

To me one of the attractions of history is to put perspective on our current lives and times.  Hardship and trials will always exist.  It's our ties to family and love for each other that will get us through and will help us be remembered.