I'm a Graveyard Runner

            It was my dad who taught me the difference.  A graveyard is next to a church; a cemetery is separate.  My dad also taught me that you could learn a lot from wandering amongst headstones.   Being from New England, we had lots of old cemeteries to wander.  We would find humor as well as poignant, pithy, and profound quotes. 
            It would be a game for us to find the oldest headstone, or where the cemetery kept the “spoils”.   You see, when a grave is dug, and the hole filled back in after the casket is placed, there is always some soil left over.  This is referred to as the “spoils”.   It is usually piled up in some remote corner.  Every active cemetery has a place, and it’s not always easy to find.  I don’t like to think of the irony, but that spoil soil sure did make my dad’s tomato plants grow quite nicely.
            Now, my dad and I still go to graveyards, but unfortunately, I’m the only one who gets to return home again.
            I run in graveyards frequently.  I seek them out.  They fascinate me.  As a runner, they give me any terrain I need, without the worry of traffic.  Okay, I know if I run on Sunday mornings there will ALWAYS be some little old lady, usually with one of those plastic rain caps, whose driving skills are destined to make me a resident.  But, for the most part, I’m all alone in a sea of humanity.  I can run as far, as fast and as long as I’d like, and not worry about the “real” world.  The headstones provide diversions for my thoughts and teach me about human nature.  I’ve had more than a few people stop me and tell me the appreciate seeing a person so alive amongst the dead.
            Some little summations I’ve picked up:
*If a wife dies significantly earlier than the husband, he will re-marry.  The reverse is not always so true.
*Infant graves are either covered in grave gifts or barren.  There is no middle ground.
*Love triangles do exist.  I’ve seen “he’s mine now”  “his one true love” and my favorite “companion to a married man” on the third leg of the triangle’s headstone.
*Humor is abundant if you take the time to look.
*The Jewish tradition of leaving a rock on the headstone when visiting is cool.
*Gaudy tinseled Christmas wreaths can look pretty against a blanket of snow, but not in February.
*Modest un-adorned headstones usually have the most interesting epitaphs. 
*Graves are often not six feet deep, and not always above the waterline.
*More gravestones are including actual mementos from the person’s life.  I’ve seen Boston Marathon finisher medals, military medals and organ donation medals embedded into tombstones.
*Those big, monument sized headstones, never have flowers.  
*Women’s roles in life have drastically changed.  Older cemeteries may relegate the woman’s only accomplishment as ‘wife to X’- I’ve even seen Wife I and Wife II with no first name.
*Headstones with pictures of the deceased will always catch my eye.

            Just as when I was a child, I still make games out of running in a graveyard.  Maybe I’ll try and find graves according to the alphabet. (Thank you to every mother who named her son Francis, as the middle name is almost always Xavier).  I’ll look for the first names of the last three people I’ve spoken to.  I’ll calculate ages.  I’ll look for someone who made it to 100.  I’ll find ways to keep my mind as busy as my legs, heart and lungs. 

           Today, I ran through Forest Lawn Cemetery.  My mind immediately flashed to an image of my dad as a young man, the very moment I discovered where they keep the spoils. 


Happy Birthday, Dad.  I love you.
            

Comments

  1. Oh, Eva! I, too, love graveyards and cemeteries (just learned the difference, thank you to both you and your dad.) I never knew about the spoils either, but I have always read the stones for stories. This post is great...it'd be a super one to submit to some sort of running magazine too. Thank you for the learning and the vicarious run! xo, a.

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  3. Amy---I always had a habit of remembering my dad's birthday for a week before the actual date and then promptly forgetting to say "Happy Birthday" on the actual date. Death has not changed that for me. (Dad's birthday is Friday).

    The moment my dad's image popped into my mind, this post wrote itself.

    Thank you for your inspiration!

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