Returning to a Cemetery

Thursday I got the Beetle back.

It had been in the shop for a week and a half, after I had broken the key off in the ignition. It should not have taken that long, but the newly cut key Volkswagen sent wasn’t cut properly — keys for the Beetle are laser-etched, for security purposes — and when the dealership received the second key, this one properly cut, late on Wednesday it still needed to be programmed, otherwise it would have been little more than a valet key and I’d have been able to drive maybe ten minutes before the engine shut off.

Anti-theft measures. Gotta love ’em.

Suffice it to say, being without a car for a week and a half meant that I had a backlog of errands I needed to do. Things like grocery shopping and buying new shoes. (I’m terrible on my shoes, specifically the soles, specifically the soles at the balls of my feet, and I needed both shoes for work and sneakers for everything else.) And while I could have done these things around the York area, I decided that, no, I could hit the highway instead and just as easily do them around Baltimore.

I’m not sure when the idea of a return to Loudon Park Cemetery came to me, but the idea had an attraction to it. My great-grandfather and his family are buried there, as are three of his siblings and his mother, not to mention a number of nieces and nephews. I visited there in late May and intended to go back when I learned where his brother is buried. Though I’ve not learned that — at some point I’ll call the office and ask if they can tell me which section he’s buried in — I decided I could make a quick stop. There’s a Giant a half mile away, I could buy some inexpensive flowers, and leave them for people that died long before I was born.

And so that’s what I did. I drove down, turned off the Beltway at Wilkins Avenue, stopped at Giant, and bought three bundles of carnations and a jug of water. The actual grocery shopping I needed to do I left for later; I didn’t want to leave milk in the car for potentially several hours on a July day.

Instead of turning to the left in the cemetery and driving past my great-grandfather’s grave first, I drove to the right and went directly to my great-great-grandmother’s grave in the Whatcoat section. Half of the cemetery — the western half — has named sections, often with a neighborhood theme. The other half, the eastern half, has letter-named sections, save for Whatcoat, which is named for a long-since closed Methodist Church in Baltimore whose cemetery was relocated to Loudon Park in something like the 1870s.

I crossed the stream into the eastern half of the cemetery, made a turn to the left, worried that it was the wrong turn, but then I looked down the hill as I crawled along and saw what I was looking for, made a turn to the right, and another right, and there I was.

Rather than leave the flowers and drive off, I decided, spur of the moment, to do some walking for exercise. I gave the monument a pat, and then I walked a loop around some of the nearby sections. I wasn’t looking for anything, and I stayed to the paved roads; it had rained overnight and the grass was wet. This part of the cemetery had been mowed recently.

Train tracks run alongside the eastern part of the cemetery, and two trains passed. I waved at the passengers, but I doubt anyone noticed. I realized, with some amusement, that had I been paying attention when I took an Amtrak train from Baltimore to Raleigh a few years ago I’d have been able to see my great-great-grandmother’s burial site, had only I been on the right side of the train car (which I wasn’t) and I had known that it was even there to look for (and which I didn’t).

Despite the signs of life — the train tracks, buildings and businesses in the neighborhood beyond the cemetery’s limits — I felt quite alone in Loudon Park. I saw one other car while I was there; that was as I’d begun my walk along the road, and I saw it driving away. Otherwise, I could have been the only person for hundreds of yards.

It wasn’t the most intensive walk, nor the longest, but it was nice, peaceful half hour. The day was was wearing on, though, so I did what I came to do.

One thing I wanted to do was to inspect the flower holders at the Boswell monument, where my great-great-grandmother is buried. I noted them when I visited in May but didn’t devote much attention to them beyond recognizing that they were there and drawing the conclusion that they were late additions to the gravesite.

I assumed they were plastic. They were not. I think they are some sort of pottery or ceramic, and they had a decorative rim. They were also very firmly placed in the ground; I tugged on one and it didn’t budge one iota. (For reference, this is a photo of the flower holder on the western side of the monument. The eastern side, along the road, was identical.)

Both flower holders, east and west, also had something in them — rusted out metal coffee cans. (For reference, this was the can on the eastern side; it was in slightly better condition than the can in the western flower holder.)

I couldn’t even begin to guess how old these cans were. Sixties? Seventies? Eighties? The cans were so degraded — the bottoms had fallen off of both — that nothing remained that could identify them.

My grandfather and mother went to Loudon Park in the early 80s looking for this gravesite — Ida and Phil Stallings, named on the eastern side of the monument, were friends of his, and Ida was his first cousin — and were unable to find it. The presence of the cans indicate that someone visited at some point after canned ground coffee became a thing. It could have been my grandfather, finally remembering where the grave was. It could have been someone else. I have no idea, and I’ll never know. Still, it was somewhat gratifying to know that the people buried here had not been forgotten, that someone thought enough within recent decades to leave flowers.

I cleaned out some of the leaves and detritus, then put the cans back where they had been.

The carnation bundles at Giant were buy one, get one free. I bought three. I didn’t need four. One was yellow, one was a light pink, salmon-colored almost, one was a dark pink.

I placed the yellow carnations on the eastern side of the monument. There was an American flag there (which I removed when I was examining and cleaning out the flower holder), presumably because Phil Stallings was, according to my researches, a World War I veteran who was wounded at the Battle of Meuse-Argonne.

My researches turned up other interesting things, such as the fact that Phil lived with Ida and her first husband (as well as Ida’s mother Isabelle and step-father) for almost twenty years after returning from Europe. Then, six months after Ida’s first husband Franklin Clark died (also buried there), Ida and Phil married in Richmond, Virginia. These facts raise a number of questions, none of which I can or will ever be able to answer.

On the western side, I placed the dark pink carnations.

As Saturday was, coincidentally, almost Ida’s birthday (she would have been 121 on Friday), I wished her a happy birthday.

For the flowers I left at my great-grandfather’s gravesite, I had to bring my own holder. The jar for a Christmas candle sufficed for the salmon-colored carnations.

I attempted to clean off what I thought was dirt and grime from the headstone to no effect; the stone is actually carved that way. The name will always look “grimy.”

My work done, I embarked on my errands. Shoes were bought, groceries were procured. I even picked up some beer and hard cider.

Heavy storms came in the afternoon. I’d never experienced a simultaneous lightning flash and thunderclap before yesterday. I never want to experience that again. While the complex didn’t lose electricity, something knocked out the street lamps, and once the sun went down it was very dark outside. Very dark indeed.

I was glad I got my errands out of the way early. And while I didn’t find anything new at Loudon Park, I will someday soon.

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