The Plot Thickens

They say that a grave site is a plot that has no ending. I make an effort to go visit Dad’s when the time permits. The cemetery closes the gates in mid-afternoon to avoid dealing with society’s losers lurking around the area. It is about two miles east on Roosevelt Road in the Western suburbs of Chicago from a client of mine. I try to combine business with sorrow.

The cemetery entrance is off Harlem Avenue. The nicely paved road quickly becomes uneven with potholes. Going west past the front office building for one full block, a left turn and about two blocks south puts me directly in front of his grave. Fortunately, Dad picked a spot right along the driveway so that we only need to park in front of his memorial stone, get out of the car, walk a couple of feet and say hello. Its location was intentional as he wanted to have space for him and Ma (many years into the future) but be near his parents as well. Ma, though, does not think that they left enough space for her. I ask her if she is planning on using it so soon. But, I’m one to talk. If it were me, I’d want enough space to also handle a laptop and wifi internet connection.

Dad’s mother’s grave marker is in the row directly behind Dad’s and about ten feet to the right. The marker is five feet high. His father’s marker is in the row behind hers about ten additional feet to the right. It is also five feet high. Dad’s mother passed away in 1958 and sister number three was named after her as she was born a few short months later. Dad’s father died in 1934 when Dad was only twelve.

Five foot high gravestones cost a lot of money in 1958 and even more so during the height of the Depression. Although they owned their own apartment building and Dad’s father was gainfully employed, the stone was financed by his father’s employer who was shocked to experience the loss of an important employee. I’m not sure who paid for his mother’s tombstone twenty four years later but whoever did surely did not share their extra spending money with our family.

When it came time to get a marker for Dad, I picked the company to put it together and chose a design that a friend had used for his mother the previous year, making a few minor changes. As a family we had agreed that it was important to show Dad’s favorite quote on the marker even if it meant paying for additional lines beyond the normal allowed in the package deal. Dad’s saying had to do with a person being truly fortunate if he was content with his lot regardless of how much he had in the bank.

His marker is maybe two to two and a half feet off the ground sitting on a base and three to three and a half feet wide. This two and and half square feet of New England marble cost over three thousand dollars. Each of the siblings shared in the expense as we did with the funeral service cost to reduce the burden on Ma. Being a cruel and take it or leave it world, Ma saw her monthly social security payments go down by forty percent when Dad passed away. His pension stopped then as well.

Although having a tall marker is a measure of respect to the departed, it also can be a burden of continuous expense. His mother’s marker leans a bit and has a sticker on it warning everyone to stand
clear and not touch for fear it may topple over. Indeed, some nearby markers are lying flat on the ground. Not because they toppled, but because the cemetery people put them that way for fear they were ready to do so. Her marker does not have a perpetual care sticker on it but that doesn’t matter. Perpetual care only ensures that the grass is mowed, weeds are removed and dirt and other gook are kept off the marble.

Ma has received a few letters from the cemetery operation asking her to pay for the repair of her mother-in-law’s grave marker. I let them know that she is not a blood relative and not responsible. If anything. Dad still has a remaining sibling- a sister in her early 90’s who lives on the east coast. I told them to contact her as she is the closest legal connection to my grandmother. On a recent visit, it looks as if something has been done to repair the marker so I presume that her children were willing to cooperate. Dad’s father’s marker does not lean but needs some mowing and removing of weeds around it.

About twenty rows up or west of Dad’s grave and a dozen columns to the left is Uncle Henry’s headstone. He died in December, 1985. I had seen it was about ten years ago when I took Dad to visit his parent’s grave for the last time he was up to going. Last year I asked at the cemetery office for Uncle Henry’s exact location as I knew it was in the area. The office gave me a map and I went on a hunting expedition knowing that it was in a row that began over to the far left boundary with a certain name. Disappointed with the condition of the gravestone after many years of neglect, I went back to the office and asked what it would cost to clean it up. The price was decent so I agreed to pay. The next few times that I went to the grave site they had indeed kept their word and made sure his marker was clean.

There is no readily funny way to end a story about a visit to the cemetery. The old joke is that it is one place where everyone is dying to get in and why do they need fences anyway? No one yet has left on their own accord. One of these days an enterprising politician is going to figure out that an easy way to find more tax money to put in their pockets is to do a yearly head tax on graves. When the cemetery operations try to pass it on to the closest relative of the deceased, that’s when you will really start to see head’s roll. (Sorry)

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