It’s pumpkin spice season at Starbucks. The smell of fall in is in the air. Kids are back in school. Now it’s time to do dust off the craziness of summer and rush in fun fall festivities.
This weekend was something new. An adventure planned for the girl gang to step out of their comfort zone. Dining at a restaurant adorned with the name Six Feet Under. A creepy cemetery tour. Why not? This weekend seemed like a perfect time to have the shit scared scared out of me. Off we went, almost leaving the safety of suburbia for the sin of the city.
Well, I almost went. The others actually went. The first warning came from the driver. “I must warn you I’m willing to drive but I drive like a blind person.” Hmmm. Sounds perfect for this fall adventure. Unfortunately Chick 1 had to bail to catch a flight on a whim, but no fear Chick 2 was ready willing and able to jump into this spooktacular adventure. As the torch passes from one scared Chick to one unphased Chick, you will see how this wild tale unfolds.
I will be waiting in anticipation to read the conclusion of the graveyard tales with you. I may or may not be chasing ghosts in my sleep until then….
Chick 2 taking over. We arrived on the misty morning at the front gate of Oakland Cemetery. The forecast called for rain and clouds, which in most cases might have been a disappointment, but in this case it fit perfectly with our funereal outing. We made a brief visit to the gift shop which was filled with laughably morbid treasures like Southern funeral cookbooks and sympathy cards. After breezing through, we started our tour.
It had been about a decade since I had been to Oakland. And before that, I had visited in 7th grade. This was an old old cemetery even then, so you can imagine the cracked walkways, faded headstones, and mossy ground it is filled with now.
Our guide was a quirky woman who had led tours there for many years. Our tour was focused on stories of women buried there. We walked gingerly between the rows. Simple stones to elaborate tombs and everything in between. We saw the resting places of celebrities like Margaret Mitchell and Kenny Rogers (not a woman, but his fame made him a detour). We heard about people who weren’t famous but shared great love stories, made important contributions like leading the first black PTA, or just did notable things. We noticed stones and little elephants piled on grave markers. The elephants were on a stone that marked the resting place of a woman who took in many orphans. We learned that elephants are some of the only animals that look after orphans in nature. Interesting.
There were so many symbols on the graves. Circles stand for eternity. Closed books and open books. Swords and pillows. The lambs on the graves of babies. Each with a different meaning behind them. Intricate stories for the lives represented. An attempt to capture what was most important about them in life, or even their hopes in death.
Different sections for different kinds of people. A section for Confederate soldiers. A Jewish section. An African American section. Interesting how cemeteries reflect the segregation in life at times.
Since we mostly looked at the graves of women, I noticed how often the women in the cemetery were remembered only in relationship to what they did for others. One man had many accomplishments listed, author, Southern gentleman, and so on. On the other side of the stone, the woman was listed as “loving and supportive wife.” Is that all we remember her for?
It also made me wonder what I would want to have on my tombstone. What would I want my legacy to be?
My group and I wandered in the dreary drizzle. We meandered. We took photos. We smelled plants. We asked questions and just took in the ambiance. A sunny day wouldn’t have fit, to be honest.
We capped it off with a delicious lunch and a surprise pastry and coffee treat. All in all, a great day of learning, friendship, and both making and thinking about memories. How would you like to be remembered?