Monday, October 10, 2005

Keeping Up With the Boneses:
The Hottest Trends in Gravescaping

Lone Fir Cemetery in Southeast Portland is the scene for local dead folk. It's the place to see and be seen for our dearly departed, and by looking at the headstones, some departed way more dearly than others.

Portland's Old Money lies side by side with with all manner of peasantry, from pioneer families to victims of gang drive-bys. Lone Fir's terrain is uneven, and the mottley assortment of headstones jutting from the ground look like mismatched place settings. Old tablet shaped tombstones are dimpled and pitted with what used to be the legible names of persons buried there. You're likely to walk right over military stones and other markers flush with the earth.

Gone are the days of leaving a grave to grow a seamless lawn. Families make better use of the soil and our temperate climate by planting shrubbery and flowers over the grave. Newer graves are decorated with tradtitional sprays and vases of lilies, but agreived relations are pouring their hearts out in poetry and letters, cards and photos, leaving plastic-covered mementos at the site. One of the more heartbreaking displays I came across was a newly buried infant. A tiny, beaded baby charm bracelt draped off of a wire stand gushing "Welcome!" in a happy font.

Recently folks have taken to beautifying gravesites with marble chips, small statuary, stuffed animals, Mardi Gras beads, and garden doo-dads like wire bumble bees, humming birds, and dragonflies.

Traditionally, markers have been inscribed with bible verses, poetry, a short quote from the deceased, or a poignant line quantifying this particular loss, like "Taken too early," or "At rest with God, " or, as in the case of married couples, and some parents and children, a determination that they "will meet again." One cleverly worded headstone, a flat, gray granite marker, denoted the birth date as "Sunrise" and the death date as "Sunset."

Portraits of the deceased are popular now, many of these are Ukranian and russian individuals. Either engraved into the stone or airbrushed onto smooth, black, granite, phantom heads float above a grave garden, keeping a watchful eye on visitors making the rounds.

Leaving trinkets and toys and the acoutrements of the living at a grave is practiced in many cultures, and some gifts are sweet, and others are just, weird. I get the football jersey, but the Oregon Driver's Manual--not sure if that was garbage blown over the fresh mound, or left at this teen's grave as a reminder of what he had yet to look forward to. A fellow known as "Bubba Big Daddy" to his kin really loved to drink Corona, so much so that a replica of a Coronoa bottle has been engraved on his headstone, and his friends stack empties on his grave, arranging the gold caps along the cross erected by his headstone. I thought it garrish and tasteless, but this is how his friends and family pay tribute. Memorials are becoming as individual as, well, individuals.

Unfortunately this is the time of year vandals make gravel of old headstones, and Lone Fir is a favorite haunt of teenage miscreants. I walked the grounds yesterday under the watchful eye of a policeman in a patrol car. Apparently he wasnt' there during the week, as I came across several stones that had been overturned, sledgehammered, and defaced. It just made me sick.
The dead can't be insulted, but the living have invested money, time, and countless tears into their loved ones' final resting places. Maybe we're burying the wrong people.

Arresting in Peace,



Blogger KlevaBich said...

I adore cemeteries. I would LOVE to live next door to one -- what excellent neighbors! Quiet, keep their lawns mowed, no junk cars parked in the front yard, and their occasional gatherings are generally quiet. As for those who vandalize graveyards, I hope there's an extra-hot corner of hell waiting for them. In fact, why not send all vandals there? And car thieves, of course...

2:05 PM  
Blogger Cindy St. Onge said...

Cemeteries are the best alternative to city parks. No screaming kids, rogue frisbees, or obnoxious cell phone conversations.

Lone fir is quiet green space with huge, old trees of all kinds, and there are ample benches of wood and stone here and about. More crows than ducks at cemeteries, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Cranky Bastard said...

I see the vandalism all the time, Cindy. And here's a novel twist for you: sometimes the grieving next-of-kin can be the biggest assholes. If they admire a potted plant that you left for your dearly departed, it walks off and now adorns the grave of their dearly departed. It appears the only problem with graveyards is that there aren't enough dead people in them. The living can screw up anything!

4:02 PM  
Blogger Cindy St. Onge said...

Cranky, I couldn't agree more, and I know that in your work as a grave digger, you witness some of the basest, most piggish displays of base piggishness humans are capable of. This must be an especially irksome time of year for you.

8:31 PM  

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