I spent the morning of the final day of my fifty-eighth year walking through the cemetery in my hometown, Montague, Michigan. I had not been to the cemetery since we laid Dad to rest in 2010. Visiting with my aunt on the first day of my northward jaunt, she asked if I would turn over the urn on her parents’/my grandparents’ grave. It is a heavy thing, she can’t turn it up on her own, and it’s her year to fill it with flowers. I’m glad that I didn’t forget.
I found the stones for Louis and Ethel Eilers, turned up the urn, and reminisced. I noted that Grandpa died when I was only ten months old. My other grandfather also died before I got to know him. Louis was fifteen years older than Ethel, and since she was only eighteen when she got pregnant, necessitating their marriage, the age gap was, perhaps, scandalous. She was carrying my father.
My grandparents’ grave carries far more meaning for me than meets the eye. At the end of Grandpa’s plot is interred the tiny casket of a precious boy who was granted but one day in this world. He is Johnathan Gregory Eilers. He is my firstborn.
When Johnathan died, it paid to have a dad for a city manager. He said, “Don’t worry about a plot for Johnathan. We can slip him in at the end of Dad’s grave.” My first wife and I were a young couple and I was laid off, so our pockets were as empty as our hearts now were, so to not have to worry about the cost or the job of getting a plot was a huge relief. His grave remains unmarked because, um, let’s just say Johnathan’s burial was private doings on Dad’s part.
Tears shed so that I retain a 100% rate of crying at the memory of my son, I made the short walk across the lane and down to my folks’ grave. I am not one to talk to dead loved ones, nor am I one to find it necessary to visit their graves. I spent a holy moment before my beloved mother and father, thanked the Lord for them, and began wandering the cemetery.
I have a lot of cemetery experience. As a pastor, I officiated 150 funerals. I am comfortable in a graveyard. I find headstones to be fascinating, and I was not disappointed last Friday. With my phone in hand from having taken pictures of my folks’ and grandparents’ graves, I put it to use.
I found the grave of James Sandford curious because we are given the date of his death, and then the exact years, months, and days he lived. Apparently, it was meant to be our job to determine his birthday. If I did the math correctly, James was born January 13, 1818.
When I was a kid, there was a star Chicago Cubs outfielder, Billy Williams. If I did the math right . . . you figured it out.
When I saw the grave of Ralph Rolph, I could not help but laugh and wonder why—why Ralph with Rolph? Was Ralph a family name? If so, his grave does not name him as a junior or a II. Did they simply like the sound of it? (Quick, say “Ralph Rolph” three times, fast.) Did they think about the ribbing he’d surely get from the other kids? And who dubbed him “Shorty,” which he just might have preferred?
Easily the favorite grave marker upon which I stumbled, I couldn’t help but wonder where Leonard resides, and does he know that he clearly is the world’s oldest living human? The stories he must have for us! Was he in the war?—the Civil War, that is. Did he vote for Lincoln? Does he know who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? Someone, please, find this man. He should be easy to spot; he’s turning 186 this year, for Pete’s sake!
A sad memory flooded my mind at the sight of Robert Conroy’s grave. In 1972, I was fifteen. One of the Conroy boys was in my grade. A younger son would become a friend a few years later when we worked together at Todd Pharmacy. The Conroys were a respected family and fellow members at St. James Catholic Church.
1972’s Thanksgiving Day festivities were interrupted by awful news. Mr. Conroy fell dead at home, a heart attack taking his life in an instant. Only thirty-eight years old, a wife and I think five children left to mourn and try to move on. I am pleased to report that, as a family, they strived and survived the shockingly sudden death of their beloved husband and father.
I simply could not pass up the snapping of a shot of the grave of Halsey Brooks. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this name before, not as a first name and only in the Paul McCartney song, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” A Google search did not find that this was a popular girl’s name at the time. It wasn’t even in the top 100. I hope Halsey enjoyed it. I bet she wore it well. I think she was a cool chick. She had to be, with such a cool name.
In 1976, I was nineteen and working part time at Todd Pharmacy in Montague. A mop-haired, super-friendly, early thirties-aged guy named Roger Bearup became a regular coffee drinker at our soda fountain. He sold insurance. I told him that if he could explain life insurance to me so that I could grasp why I should buy a policy, I would buy a policy. He came over to our house, took me through the paces, and I became his customer.
Soon, we were friends. We took to playing tennis together. Roger was a lefty, as I am. One time, I hit a lob that landed behind him. He hustled back, but the ball was not on his the side of his racketed hand. Quickly, Roger moved the racket to his right hand, hit a perfect lob return, and left me with my mouth wide open and then laughing in amazement.
Roger and I moved on in life and I never saw him again.
Since I left home and with the advent of the Internet, I took to the online reading of the obituaries of my hometown newspaper. In March of last year, I saw the obituary of a Jason Bearup. When I saw that it was Roger’s son, my heart broke for him.
I saw this curious grave with one proper stone and one rock. My eye was drawn first to the granite stone. It was Roger’s son. Only after reading it did I turn to the rock of, what, a person recently buried and the granite stone was not yet ready? Yes, this was the case. Sadly, I had not seen the obit of this person. It was my friend, Roger.
I cried for Roger. When I noted that he died on his son’s birthday—the first birthday of his son after his son died—I cried even harder.
I know nothing of the past thirty-some years of Roger’s life, but I know he was a dandy gentleman, congenial with everyone, and very kind to me. I am thankful that he was my friend.
P.S. After reading this post, a friend informed me how Roger died. Sadly, he was killed in an accident while on his other son’s farm.
I wandered the cemetery until the wet grass thoroughly soaked my shoes and into my socks. My appreciation was renewed for the pricelessness of life and solemness of death.
I spent the rest of the final day of my 58th year by going jogging through Montague, then enjoying my son’s band and an evening of engaging conversation with friends. On Saturday I turned fifty-nine. Sixty looms. Time marches on. I jog on.
Too soon, my jogging days will be done. I intend to keep going with gusto until I can move no more and the Lord calls me home.