Saturday, September 13, 2008


My friend just shared a moving tribute as she remembered the 1 year anniversary of her Grandfather's passing. It prompted me to remember my own Grandpa. He passed away in 2004, and I still think about him often. I had the priviledge of conducting his funeral service. It was amazing to prepare and share stories about his life. He was one of my closest friends. But that is a topic for another blog, probably in October. Today's story takes place months after his funeral, from my first visit to his grave since his burial.
Grandpa Hofer, my dad and I grew up in Central California, about 30 miles south of Fresno. Grandpa was born in his father's farmhouse and lived his entire life within miles of the homestead. It was his Grandfather, I believe, that started the little country church. It was the cemetary that was first installed out of necessity before the sanctuary was even built. My Grandpa laid his parents to rest here as well as he and Grandma's first child. I remember as a young boy peering at this cemetary after church and sometimes even walking in to find the tombstone of the aunt I never knew.

So in this small, rural cemetary, the graves are dug by hand. The sandy soil is too soft to get heavy equipment in. It is carefully dug and a mound of sand is left near the gravesite to be replaced after the mourners have gone. Someone comes in later and fills the sand back in. Due to the sandy soil there are few weeds. The flat ground is marked only by markers placed by family members and occasional flowers left by visitors. When I left the cemetary that October day of Grandpa's funeral, his was still an open grave. I don't recall if his casket had even yet been lowered into the grave. However, I knew that there were others in charge taking care of the finality of his resting place.

My next visit home wasn't until the next summer. If you've never been to Central California in the Summer, it can get hot. Temperatures often reach 100 +. I believe that was the case on this day. One of the things I needed to do that day was visit my Grandpa's grave. I didn't know I would feel the need to do that as strongly as I felt. I knew that is marker had been placed, although not all that long before my visit. I was a little bothered by that, but there were reasons. It wasn't a big deal. It was there now and I wanted to see it. And I wanted to honor his memory and spend some time remembering him.I went alone. This was something for my own personal journey.
I arrived to find a nice fence around the cemetary. A nice improvement over the chain link of the past. As I walked through the gate I looked across the sand and tombstones and could not believe my eyes. There was still a mound where the hole had been. His gravesite was not flat like those around it. I imagined the men had lowered the casket into the grave, used the pile of sand to fill the hole, placed all of the remaining sand on top of the grave and nobody ever returned to flatten out his final resting place to make it look like the rest of the cemetary. I was devistated and angry. Are you kidding me? My Grandpa's gravesite has not been cared for? I was furrious. It felt like he had been dishonored.
I raced back to the farm. One can drive very fast on the country roads. I think the 2 miles to the farm took me about 30 seconds. I pulled up to the barn, grabbed a shovel and rake, threw them into my car and raced back to the cemetary. And on that 100+ degree day I began to shovel sand and throw it to the edge of the cemetary near the fence. And it was a lot of sand. The center of the pile was probably 8 - 10 inches tall the entire length of the gravesite, tapering off to the sides.
I worked hard that day. My Grandpa deserved his final resting place to look finished and well cared for, just like the field he and my dad had worked for so many years before. What did other visitors think of how it looked until now? I worked until that pile of sand was gone, scattered around the perimeter of the cemetary and the site was raked flat. I worked off my displeasure. I did it to honor his memory. I did it so nobody else would have to. And I told no one.
No one until we got to Jill's dad's a few days later. I told him all about arriving and being horrified by the unkept grave. I told him how I sped home, returned with a shovel, broke my back flattening out the mound. And then I noticed the look on his face. It wasn't the look of pleasure that I had done a noble thing. As if his look wasn't enough I then heard the words "Oh, Don..." The horror I felt arriving at the cemetary was now overshadowed by the horror I began to feel as Jill's dad proceeded to tell me how little country cemetary graves work. Apparently, once the grave is filled in, time and weather take it's toll. When sand absorbs rain it becomes heavier. The weight of the wet sand compresses the sand below it, sometimes even collapsing the casket below. So, to compensate for the compression that will take place over the first year or two, A MOUND IS LEFT ON THE GRAVESITE and as the ground settles it flattens out.
Horror. What had I done? Now, instead of a nice, flat, respectable looking gravesite, Grandpa's will have a cave in and will look horrible. Someone will have to find sand and fill in the holes, continue to come back time and time again to fill holes as the ground compresses. Someone's going to be upset.
Well, I don't know what you would do from 300 miles away. I called my brother, asked him to call the cemetary caretaker, ask some question, check from time to time and see how it looks and take care of it. And yes, about a year ago I told my dad what I did to Grandpa's grave. Oops!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember that conversation. I did not know, however, that you had gone to all that work. Did the graveyard-person confirm my observation? I am just so smart when it comes to graveyards...Victor