Sundays at the Cemetery

Dave - Grnd Rapids, Michigan
Entered on November 11, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family, legacy, place

Sundays at the Cemetery

When I was growing up, Sundays afternoons, after mass, were reserved for a family outing. Many families in the neighborhood would go to the beach, a ball game, or visit the relatives. Dad used to take us to visit the relatives too – with one minor difference. They were all dead! I know this might sound a bit bizarre, but we all have our quirks.

The Kampfschultes had lived in the area for 75 years and being German, they all went to the German parish, St. Mary’s on what was known as the West Side of town. They all they were all buried at the same cemetery affiliated with St. Mary’s which was Mount Calvary. Dad to his everlasting regret, moved to the south end of town, where my mom grew up, to please her, when they got married. Many Sundays, he would make the pilgrimage back to the West Side, with us in tow.

We never went directly to the cemetery. The route wound past all the old family homes, and the neighborhood where my dad grew up in on the circuitous route to Mt. Calvary. The last place we always went by before reaching the promised land was the local A and P where Dad never tired of saying he worked there for a dollar a day and of course was glad to get it.

I was the caboose in the family and by the time I came along Dad’s parents were safely interned at Mt. Calvary along with most of their generation. They were just names to me – that is until I was old enough to go on the Mt. Calvary tour. We would park the car and start our hike among the gravestones, with Dad narrating a story of each relative we passed along the way, mixed in with a history of the times. There were Dad’s infant cousins who died in the 1918 flu epidemic and his eccentric Aunt Clara, who lived with them for a while when times were tough in the Depression. Close by was my infamous Uncle Frank who had a poker game in his basement six nights a week. He reserved the seventh night to spend time with his wife. After she died, the game moved up to the kitchen and it went seven nights a week. Of course he made his own brew during Prohibition. The list of the relatives and the stories that went with them were endless. There was always a humorous antidote attached to each one.

Dad had a well deserved reputation for being frugal. Taking the family to the cemetery for a Sunday afternoon outing, only added to that reputation. In retrospect, it did save him a few pennies, but more importantly it gave him a chance to connect us with a previous generation. Right along with the Uncle Frank stories there were the stories of how close the family was, how they constantly helped each other out, and how everyone was accepted for who they were. Above all how much fun they had even in the depths of the Depression. The constant thread was that family is number one priority. Those gravestones and the stories that went with them served as guideposts for me when raising my own family many years later.

I must confess I did it with my own kids, although not quite so frequently, when they were younger. One difference was that my wife insisted that I stop for an ice cream cone on the way home, so the frugal memory would not be as strong with my kids as it was with me. Something must have stuck, because just last week my adult son called up and said next time he came to town he wanted to go to the cemetery. The stories and the location of the gravestones were starting to fade and he didn’t want to lose them. The beat goes on! That is why I believe in Sundays at the cemetery!