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A Walk to the Graveyard
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[Chris Garcia has just published issue 72 of his zine The Drink Tank. The theme is tombstones. Since I doubt there's much overlap between Chris' readership and those who frequent this blog, and my contribution is probably the most boring one, I'm going to reprint it here. I hope some of you download the zine to read all the stuff by a bunch of great contributors including John W. Campbell Award winner Jay Lake (who definitely shows how he won) and faanish legend Arnie Katz(who also shows how he got that tag). Along with cemetery visits there are accounts of a columbarium where ashes are shelved in marble books in a marble library, the tombstone for COBOL, a look at the film "Tombstone," and lots more along with photos of famous grave markers.

A Walk to the Graveyard

Fifty years ago I considered it a treat to walk with my grandmother to the cemetery a block from where our family lived. When you're six the end of the street is a long way and the cemetery on the far side of a road you can't cross by yourself seems even further.

The small cemetery might have been another world, enclosed by a painted, wrought iron fence with a gate that creaked as we entered. Inside was quiet. The sounds of passing traffic did not penetrate the shadows under the old, overgrown yew trees. There we heard only bird calls and the buzzing of the honeybees in the luxuriant clover which half concealed flat grave markers. I'd be thrilled and horrified to find I had set my sneaker, unknowingly, on a slab of polished granite.

At the oldest end of the place, lichened stones leaned against the fence and sat in neat piles, inscriptions too eroded to identify. I was awed by their age. What inconceivable vastness of time would it take to wear away the names and memories of the living?

The family plot was at the edge of the newer end, in the sunlight, just beyond the yews. In early summer there were sweet, wild strawberries to be found in the grass.

The night after I watched my grandfather's coffin lowered from view I lay in bed and thought about him out there in the dark, in the cold, alone, so close I could have heard him shout for me.

Then it was different when my grandmother and I walked to the cemetery. Then I was old enough to read the dates on the gravestones. I helped my grandmother tend the geraniums by the grave. When she fussed with the flower bed I saw her straightening my grandfather's tie.

A few years later I watched an aunt buried and in twenty years I returned again -- this time not from the end of the street but from another state -- to see my grandmother join them. Most recently it was my father.

I noticed that the cemetery had expanded but the rusting fence hadn't been extended to replace the vanished trees which had edged the yards beyond. There was no longer any demarcation between house and cemetery lawns. The graves simply petered out a few feet from a childrens' swing set.

There is room in the family plot still.

My instructions, though, are firm. I will be cremated and my ashes scattered far away, perhaps over water, someplace no one can walk to.

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