It is a glorious October day, sunny and 24 degrees when I stop at the Mountain View Cemetery on Somenos Road, just outside of Duncan, to find my family. I park my car in front of the gates, step out, and wander into the oldest part of the cemetery. Old trees stretch up to the sky, their branches cast a shadow on the tombstones below. The grass is dry underfoot and brown pine needles blanket the tombs.
I first find the Truesdales—a family connection, my great-great-grandmother’s niece. In the 1890s Jane Truesdale had joined her aunt after the family moved from Ontario to the young town of Duncan, BC on Vancouver Island.
Next, I spy the Grassies: my 2nd great-grandparents, Margaret and Robert. Born in Aberdeen, he was one of the local blacksmiths in town, a trade passed down from his father. A spider web spreads its sticky fingers across the face of the tombstone. I brush it aside and say hello to these ancestors who died a century before.
I take photos, then continue my search. Here lies my great-uncle, Wilfred Hattie, who drowned as a bachelor in his early 30s—some say he fell overboard after too much drink. But this was rarely spoken of. Instead, Dad’s cousin shares the memory of how my great-grandmother, Minnie, walked to the cemetery each Sunday to visit her only son’s grave. She planted a feathery purple heather atop the plot to soften the landscape where her beloved Boy lay “at rest.” Eventually she was buried there beside him. Wilfred’s name overshadows Daniel and Minnie’s, “Dad” and “Mum.” A son should never die before his parents.
Some years ago, Minnie’s purple heather was rooted out and the landscape simplified. The plant connected me to my great-grandmother—her grief, her faith, her healing—and I was sad to see it removed. Now the plot is covered with plastic and rocks to keep the weeds at bay. “Who will come to tend the graves after I am gone?” my dad’s cousin asks. “It’s got to have a permanent surface put on it. One of these years I’m not going to be able to go.” She is in her eighties and still comes every month with her trowel and knee pads. In the spring she picks wildflowers to put on the graves. “It gives me a little chance to have a chat with my grandparents and my parents,” she says. “Here we are, mother, back again.”
And that is my next stop, too. Beside the Hatties are her parents, Walter Whan and his wife. There are bird droppings and pine needles. I scrape them away. Auntie Grace was my grannie’s oldest sister. She outlived everyone in her family and helped me feel loved after my grannie was gone. “In Loving Memory.”
I walk back to the car to sit in the air conditioner while I type up my notes and think. Now that I am gone, a gray squirrel scampers across the brittle grass, the only living thing left in the cemetery. All the loved ones remain below ground “Till the Dawn break and the shadows flee.” In the meantime, I remember their lives and take meaning from their existence.
Who will come after Dad’s cousin is gone?