So, initially, this post was going to be an action-packed picture whore of a post in which I showed you all of the great and magnificent things I did today. However, due to technical difficulties, which I will get into later on, I had to change my initial idea.
For all those people who are recent followers or who have forgotten, one of the duties I took upon myself was to go grave-tending to older and forgotten cemeteries. This pretty much means that I go to cemeteries and spend time there. I end up cleaning off head stones, taking snapshots of every head stone, take notes for names for the stones that are too faded to properly catch in picture format (though a picture is still taken). I also leave offerings for the Deadz therein as well as clean up the place. I have a couple of Photobucket albums dedicated to my grave-tending duties, actually, and one day, I’ll have a page on here dedicated to that. (But not today.) After a six month absentee to this duty, I knew I had to get started again.
Part of the reason why it’s been so long since I’ve done my last duty is because New England is not terrific for taking this duty on. Since I do this in honor of the Ghede, specifically Papa and the Bawon, I only do this on certain days of the week, namely Saturday since this is their day. And since most New England winters bury the land in snow and ice, I don’t get much done during those months. In the summer, especially if the cemeteries are of a larger nature, I dehydrate faster than I can get water into me so I tend to abstain from the practice then, too. This leaves me with Spring and Autumn to conduct these duties. Since this last year I’ve been driving three hours to Rutland and back on Fridays and then doing it all over again on Sundays, I let the thing slide. Burning myself out didn’t seem like a wise idea.
And now, I don’t have those extraneous driving duties to perform, so guess what? It is definitely time to get back into this before winter hits.
Today, I chose to work on two cemeteries in Ludlow, Massachusetts. I chose the Sikes Cemetery and the East “Ould” Cemetery to conduct my duties out. Prior to getting started, I packed up my grave-tending basket with all of the items I could load it up with at home. This pretty much includes a spade, toothpicks, a brush, jars, plastic bags, booze, water, my camera, extra batteries, incense cones and tea lights, as well as any food offerings I think are proper. After that, I will occasionally make pit stops before going to pick up more food for offerings. Today, I added a large loaf of freshly baked bread and a bundle of flowers. I also added apples and grapes from my at-home stock to bring along with me.
The Sikes Cemetery is a mostly empty field. As taken from this website, “This is the oldest cemetery in the town and is located on Munsing Street. The land here was used as a burial ground even before it was given to the town for use as a cemetery in the 1770s. The cemetery has not been used since the early 19th century according to McChesney (in Noon’s book, he states that this cemetery is still being used as of 1911) and many of the bodies buried there no longer have a gravestone. This cemetery is very small and has an old stone wall around it, built in 1865.”
While I wouldn’t class it as small myself, I can see what the author was initially trying to say. There are very few head stones still standing in that place and it took me, maybe, fifteen minutes to photograph all of them. In fact, upon entering, I had to traverse the entire length of the cemetery to reach the first head stone. Since there was no head stone at the entrance, I didn’t pay for my entrance. These people didn’t seem to mind overmuch. Most of the head stones that have remained are all Sikes relatives. There were three stones that were so badly weathered that I could not read or tell the name. These three stones were also broken in half. It’s obvious that no one put any thought, energy, or time into this cemetery aside from posting Veteran flags at the proper places. It makes me wonder how many of the souls in that cemetery are still there – without a head stone, do they really have a place there any longer? I can’t say I’m “sensitive” or anything, but I didn’t feel any Deadz in there.
Most of the head stones were heavily covered in lichen. I ended up going back through them and writing down first names, years of death, ages of death, and any relationships they bore to related head stones. I don’t do this very often and this is a very new addition to my practice. I started doing this at the behest of my mother when she started nudging me about posting my pictures in a more public fora so that people who are looking for ancestors can at least see their graves, even if they’re across the country. Since I’m doing this work for them and not for me, it seems like a valid addition. Even though I took pictures of every head stone, I still had to go back and catalog who was who and number each notation of a name I made so that I could try to place them with the photos I had taken. The weathering and the lichen were just that bad.
I did try to clean them off as best I could. This is what the water and the tooth picks are for. With the tooth picks, I’ll trace out the pattern of the word beneath the lichen and then try to brush the rest of it away. This is actually what I spend a good deal of time doing. It seems that past generations were less caring about whether or not names were maintained on their head stones. This saddens and irritates me… as does the trash I found. This cemetery, being in the boonies, wasn’t as bad as some of them, but there was still some trash around. I picked the bits up and then set about prepping a place for my offering: half a loaf of bread, a nip of whiskey, flowers, grapes, and an apple. I offered them this to feed their souls.
After an hour, all said and done, I was ready to get to East “Ould” Cemetery.
As taken from the website I linked to above, “Also known as the “Ould Burying Ground,” this cemetery is perhaps one of the least known cemeteries in town as it is not near any main roads, similar to the Sikes cemetery. This cemetery lies off of Poole Street and is half in Ludlow and half in Belchertown. The first person buried here is Hannah Olds who died in 1802 and is on the Belchertown side. This cemetery is only used today for burials in existing family plots.”
This cemetery was actually bigger than I had originally thought it was. When the Sister originally found it for me, I took a drive up to find it so that I could remember where I would go when the weather cooled. (Guess what? I still had to do a Google search for it.) It’s very odd because it just pops up on the right after driving on a small two-lane road for what seems like forever. It’s also strange because one of the entrances abuts a person’s driveway. And in the distance is their field for grazing, as evidenced by the various cows and a donkey I saw walking by.
I settled down to get work done and ended up marveling at the whole place. It was large, the grass was spongy, and it was taken care of. Obviously, the locals tend to this place better than the Sikes Cemetery I went to. I was pleased. The problem I kept running into was that feeling that someone was trying to sneak up behind me. I also heard footsteps behind me on two separate occasions and someone running really fast, as well. I made sure to pay the first head stone I came to, but someone was playing games with me. Well. I don’t know if it was playful either. It was definitely odd and it left me slightly unsettled, but I’ve been unsettled in plenty of cemeteries before… no game-playing is going to stop me from my job.
However, what will is the death of my camera.
I was about a third of the way through when I came upon a particular head stone that caught my eye. It was a white marble head stone that had fallen over at some point. It had been left there for so long that the face that was pointing to the sky was completely weathered away. Intrigued, I lifted it up to see who was on the other side, but there was no name. It had completely worn away. I couldn’t name them; I couldn’t do anything. I did however play around with some of the pieces of the head stone that was left over. It was very interesting to play with marble without it, you know, being a part of a stone. Immediately after this head stone, I came across a man who had a very odd name. (His name was Purchase, but it wasn’t spelled that way.) I took a photo of the head stone, zooming in on the name, but the name got cut off. Annoying, I pulled the zoom out on my camera and the screen went dead.
I casually shut it off, turned it on, shut it off. Nothing. I pulled the batteries out, blew inside, and placed them back in there. They were still fresh, so what the hell? No matter what I did, I could not get it to work. “Whoever is doing this, stop, please,” I called across the cemetery. “I am here to feed your souls. Tend your graves. Clean you up. And make sure you are remembered. Don’t you want to be remembered?” I’m not joking when I say that trees went insane with the amount of wind that lashed through them. I heaved a sigh and said, “I will prep your meal for you and if the camera is still down after that, I will leave.” Nothing.
I went around preparing the meal I had in mind and left a flower at the grave of the man who I had last taken a picture of… just in case he was the one angry with all of this.
After the incense was halfway burned through, I tried my camera again but it didn’t work. I shrugged it off and threatened to come back later. “You can’t stop me from this. I will make sure you are remembered,” I snapped angrily and stormed off to my car. When I got home, I gleefully went about uploading the pictures that I had double checked were still available on my memory card. Even though the screen was going dead, preventing me from taking a picture, I could still check the pictures on the playback. (Weird!) I handed the camera off to TH to inspect and we discovered that my faithful grave-tending companion was now truly dead. With nothing left but to start at least looking for a replacement, I began the long process of downloading 260 pictures to my laptop.
And ten of them, from the Sikes Cemetery, were downloaded. I only discovered this, of course, after I deleted them from the memory card, which I do immediately after they’re placed on my laptop since it makes my life easier to do a mass delete like that. And I had watched the process as it took hours to download (my laptop is not in the best shape, either). I had seen the pictures erasing and there were images being shown instead of blank, stock images. So, as far as I can tell, 260 images were taken from my memory card and then, disappeared. I am very upset by this and I’m trying not to believe that I really am cursed with electronics or that some nasty little spirit is fucking with me. (However, I’ve had the Deadz fuck with my camera before just because they felt like it or to see what would happen before and this feels similar.)
This is not going to stop me. I am planning on going back to redo both cemeteries in the next week. (Even though I prefer to do this on Saturdays in honor of the Bawon and Papa G, I will return to cemeteries that I owe things to whenever.) And no matter what the hell happens, East “Ould” will be done and uploaded. And I will be gleeful.