Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cemetery Critters

I wish I had been able to photograph all of the cemetery critters in this story but, since most of them were seen DURING a funeral service cameras were inappropriate. But, visiting cemeteries is a different story. While I was at an old country cemetery this past week this sweet hunting dog came up to see if I would take him home with me? As I have said in the past, I have to let the story come to me..not go looking for it.

 I have always wondered if the obligatory cemetery snake was always real or if it was talked about in front of children as to keep all of us kids in place and hanging close to our family members? I have seen my share of snakes in quite a few of the cemeteries that I have visited and ALWAYS keep my eye out for those boogers! That is why I limit my country cemetery visits to hunting season. Too cold for snakes!

Once, while living and working at a cemetery in Central Florida, a family came in to make arraignments for a loved one who had died. Our office was about a half of a city block from the cemetery, on the same grounds. It is a small country type cemetery in a large urban area. It was a beautiful cooler than usual, sunny day and I asked the family if they wanted to walk to choose a grave space or ride in my car? The weather was so nice outside that we chose to walk. In between the office and the cemetery and there was a maintenance area behind a fence...Huge live oak trees lined the area with their branches draped in Spanish moss. White sugar sand was beneath our feet. It was a lovely sight…until….

We had walked about 100 feet from the office when it seemed like a voice out of nowhere said “three, two, one GO!!! Out from under the fence was, you guessed it, snakes...not A snake, not two snakes but, there indigo snakes racing out from under that fence at the same time going full blast across that hot sugar sand! They were neck to neck in a race to make it to the grass about fifty feet away…Well, guess what? The six of us humans turned on a dime and raced neck to neck the one hundred feet back to the safety of the air conditioned office. None of us, snakes or humans, turned to look back at the other until the door was shut and locked. Like we thought that the snakes would stand end on end and be able to open the door! Yes, crazy I know.

Another commonly uncommon cemetery critter in Florida is Gopher Tortoise... They are very large weighing around 30 pounds and are very fast in the first thirty to fifty feet...That sucker can run at about twenty miles per hour...That’s bookin it. Did I mention that the Gopher Tortoise is on the endangered species list along with the Indigo snakes and can’t be monkeyed with in any way? And, that there are HUGE fines for even talking to one? Well, almost!

For some reason it seems that every time someone was very upset, demanding or just plain crazy and came in to either of the two cemeteries where I worked, I would be called in to “handle the situation”. Why me? Well, why not?

One day while I was innocently turning in contracts, a lady came in who was ranting and raving about her husband’s marker being stolen right out of the cemetery! She was going to contact her attourney, she was going to the newspapers and television stations...The end of the world would come if we did not do something right then and there. So, I put her into my car and we drove out to her husband’s grave, sure enough all that was where her husband’s flat bronze marker had been was dirt! I had to agree with her that it looked as if something had happened to her beloved husband’s marker...In Florida we took great care of the lush Saint Augustine grass that carpeted the cemetery. We kept each marker free of encroaching grass and the cemetery was always as perfect as anyone could ever hope for.

Right there in the middle of the cemetery was an empty marker space. What in the world could have happened? I had heels on that day and took the heel part of my shoe and tapped it on the dirt where the marker had been. I felt something metal stop my heel...I tried another place and the same thing happened again so I got out my whisk broom and hand trowel and started to gently clear away the dirt and low and behold ..there was her husband’s marker! Now we just had to figure out what had happened to put all of that dirt in one spot? I looked around at the other markers and noticed a domed shape hole under the neighboring marker…I knew right then what had happened. A now truly “endangered” Gopher tortoise had decided to make his or her home under the neighboring marker and in the night the sprinklers came on and leveled the dirt! Plain and simple. SO, we cleaned the marker and all the time the poor lady was apologizing all over the place...I got the grounds supervisor to look at this situation and  he then told her that the critter would have to decide to leave on its own or we could be in big trouble..last I saw was the lady measuring her trunk...Just kidding, I think!

One of my favorite cemetery critter stories took place in the same cemetery where I came across the dog in the picture. My cousin, Cookie, had had a string of bad luck with men in her life. It seemed that after her husband  tragically died the day before their 25th wedding anniversary all of the men that she dated afterwards died really tragic ways, too...Someday I may tell ya'll her “five in a row” story. I finally advised her that it might be a good idea to stop dating. Luckily she took my advice and has not dated since the 90’s. BUT, he last boyfriend was a doozie...we all called him Barnacle Bill because he would attach himself to widow women and live off of him...Sadly, Cookie soon began to refer to him as Barnacle, too. Actually, after a while he thought it was kinda cook and wore it as a badge of honor..He was a dandy. Not to speak ill of the dead but, just to give you some background for the story. One day this poor man sat straight up in bed and just up and died! We scrambled around and got the resources to have him cremated with a graveside service. His relatives didn’t want to have anything to do with this situation for two reasons...One was because he was living with my cousin and wasn’t married to her and the second was because they didn’t want to have to pay one red cent towards his services.

We did manage to get permission to bury his ashes next to his parents in Ebenezer Cemetery. Cookie and I drove the forty miles out in the country and finally found the cemetery and a space to start digging. Here we were two women, out in the middle of nowhere, in a cemetery with a shovel… No one else in sight...We each took turns trying to dig a small hole in the hardest dirt I have ever seen. No luck...if that wasn’t enough the temperature was over 100 degrees...I finally decided to go out into the road and flag down a car and ask them to help us... Little did I realize that everyone who passed thought that we were just too weird to risk their lives helping two, by this time steaming mad, women with a shovel in a out of the way cemetery. Finally, I got a god ol boy to dig the hole for $50.00. I have never been sure if he really believed that we were going to have a funeral. I should have told him we were planting a rose bush...Now, that would have made more sense. I should have thought of it then...oh, well.

Now that we have the grave dug and the services set we needed a preacher and Barnacle had a cousin who fit the bill…When we arrived at the funeral we were met coolly by the preacher man and his smug wife...We didn’t really know why until later. The preacher man was obviously not happy with the fact that he had to do a funeral that he did not want to do. I have to say that my cousin, Cookie, is as good as gold and is just a simple house wife who never thought that she would be widowed at such a young age. Needless to say she did not choose her men well...

The preacher man took his place and his dutiful smug wife was close by his side. We had a few people show up to send Barnacle home so that was nice...I really do hate it when someone is not buried with dignity no matter how people feel about them while they were alive. Finally we found out why the preacher man was so hateful...In his “comforting” remarks he let everyone know that being cremated is a sin and then he looked straight at Cookie and dared to say in front of everyone that Barnacle Bill had lived in sin and that he would be burning in hell for both being cremated and living in sin..Cookie who really cared about him and took him in was absolutely mortified! This made me so mad that I could have spit nails...I just stood there lookinng at that preacher man and his smug, dutiful wife. I refused to join in HIS final prayer...I would say my own prayer, thank you very much...As I was watching the preacher man  and his wife, all of a sudden his wife slapped her leg as hard as she could..No, it wasn’t a snake…She then slapped her stomach as hard as she could with the other hand...then her shoulder, her leg, her other leg…I was spellbound...I nudged Cookie to look up and we started laughing so hard that we cried..Weknew that we needed to muffle our laughs...It was funny that people now started placing their hands on our backs to comfort us because they thought that the heaving of our shoulders was crying instead of laughing...No one ever knew that we were laughing..Finally, justice for deceased...It seemd that the hideous dress that preacher’s wife had on  had great big red flowers all over it and beautiful little humming birds were dive bombing the flowers on her dress!!!

 At least ten tiny little ruby throated humming birds where were paying her back for her smugness. The little birds were in hot competition for the flowers on her dress!!!!! The preacher man's wife was just about to go to pieces in that cemetery because she thought that it was hornets that had taken hold of her..…Little did she know that it was beautiful, gentle, delicate little creatures (critters)that came down from the heavens above to seek revenge for her smugness...Barnacle Bill had his say after all! The smuggest woman that I had ever seen was now running through the cemetery slapping her body all over. Mrs. Smuggness was now a sight to see with one shoe on and the other left at the graveside..Stumbling to the shelter of her car..Cookie and I laughed all the way home. What goes around comes around and it sure is nice to have instant gratification!

God had sent those ten delightful little hummingbirds...It is true what the Bible says..."Vengence is mine sayeth the Lord"!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Question?? To Decorate a Grave? To Dress a Grave? Or Not To Dress Or Decotate? What Is Too Much? What Is Your Taste?

These are the questions that I am pondering this week? After a taking a nasty fall in the cemetery; I am going to have to ponder the questions for another day or two before I can put together the story. What are your thoughts? This is going to have to be a story of neutral opinions for me...I would never in my wildest thoughts want to offend a grieving family...I am rethinking the cemetery policies of where I have worked...Not placing fault with anyone...Corporate cemeteries have to walk a fine line of keeping grieving families form stalking out other families and confronting them over what each places on a grave in remembrance of their loved ones.

In my small family cemetery we have always been of the mindset that less is more...A tidy grave shows mountains of respect as opposed to a grave with mountains of “silk” flowers, stuffed animals, flying things, hanging things, figurines..You name it and many graves have ALL of it on them. When I was living in Florida a few years ago, a family who had an unexpected death just told the funeral home to bury their loved on in my family cemetery! None of the family members knew this one gave them permission to bury in the cemetery...Had someone just asked we would have probably invited them in...No one asked...Go figure that one!!!

And to boot, they chose a spot in the front of the cemetery and piled the grave...MOUNDED the grave with everything you could possible imagine; complete with a dragon that glowed in the dark. Even putting white plastic lawn chairs there stacked up against a tree…Boy, oh boy did my phone ring off of the hook with unhappy family members and neighbors of the cemetery!!!! After repeated calls and seven years of trying to negotiate a truce with the “squatting” family...I have tried to see their point...To a point… Luckily, they didn’t take a sledge hammer to my mother and grandparents monument as promised. Down here in the South cemetery ideas are a contact sport!...BUT… (to be continued)

What are your thoughts? How would you handle this situation? How do you feel if you are a believer in all out, over the top, competitive grave decorating? How do you feel if you are of the mind set of “less says more”...too much is tacky and not respectful? What if one family’s grave police is intruding on another’s? Please let me know your thoughts???

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Real Drive Through Cemetery

Does anyone else have a Drive Through Cemetery in your state?