As I write this column, we are approaching Memorial Day weekend. I often wonder how many young people today know the occasion is more than hamburgers on the grill and entertaining.
The first Memorial Day came after the Civil War when Americans honored the fallen in both the North and the South. Today, we not only decorate veterans' graves with American flags, but we also plant flowers at the final resting place of our loved ones.
It may seem morbid to some, but I really enjoy walking through cemeteries. When we lived in England, we saw headstones that chronicled the lives of people who died in the 11th and 12th centuries — a long way back.
I also remember visiting a little country church in England that had a doorway so low that I, at 5-feet-3-inches, had to duck not to hit my head. An engraved tablet inside explained that the small chapel was one of the last places soldiers visited before setting off to war during the Crusades. More than a place of worship, however, it also held the remains of men, women and children, interred in the walls centuries before.
Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers, many local cemeteries have been walked, foot by foot, recording names, dates and various information on those inhumed. About 10 years ago, Moira resident Joyce Ranieri spearheaded this effort in Franklin County. I believe that every cemetery that was reachable on foot has been listed online.
Until I took part in the project in 1996, I never realized how important it was in 1931, 1954, 1970, 1980 that responsible people took the time to chronicle names of people buried in local cemeteries. Many stones had completely disappeared over 60 years and would have been lost forever without earlier lists.
Because most of my McGibbon family is buried at Briggs Street Cemetery in Westville, my mother and I spent hours there writing down all the names on all the stones that were standing, as part of Ranieri's project. One sunny August day, we took a bright red umbrella, lawn chairs, sun hats and had a most enjoyable day working amongst the headstones. The cemetery is located in the middle of a field, so cars and trucks passing by slowed down trying to figure out what was happening in the cemetery.
It causes me to stop and ponder when I find the name of a child such as "Warren Briggs, son of H. & F.A. Briggs, died May 12, 1841, 3 weeks old" or "Lucy J. Berry, daughter of J.L. & O. Berry, died August 20, 1842, 2 years 2 months." Another Berry family lost three children in one week, all to the same illness. Oh how empty a mother or father's arms must be when a child dies.
My great-grandmother, Lillian Stark McGibbon, died at 25 years old, leaving behind her son, Walter, my grandfather, who turned 2 years old the month before. I think about her husband, saying goodbye to his wife, wondering how he's going to raise this youngster by himself and run a farm, too.
The old saying "The more things change, the more they stay the same," is true when it comes to losing a loved one. Modern inventions and easier lifestyles have not softened the pain of death. Those who have gone before pass the baton to we who are here now, as we will pass the baton to those who come behind us. Let's not forget to visit the final resting place of a loved one or just walk through a cemetery and read the names, pick some wildflowers, and place them on a grave that hasn't had any flowers in a very long time. The feeling of peace it leaves in the heart is hard to explain. It can only be experienced to understand.
As always, please be kind to one another. The world needs more kindness.
Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy.
Reach her by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org