Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

Keller 2

I’ve shown you this stone before but I’m showing it to you for a different reason. This man, like my grandfather, worked for the railroad (unlike my grandfather, this man died on the railroad). My grandfather doesn’t have anything about his employer, the Pennsylvania Railroad, on his stone. I am grateful that my grandfather, despitte his teh fact that the was able to work with only a 5th grade education, encouraged me to continue mine. He wanted me to go to college, and he was one of the few people who never questioned that I wanted to go to graduate school. I may not yet have the job I want, but I don’t have to do the hard manual labor that wore down his body and caused him pain not only at the time, but in the last years of his life.

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I will never lie to you an say that I didn’t wish for more time, but that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for what I received.

Pap feeding me while Mimi looks on

My father’s parents lived only thirty minutes’ drive from our house when I was a child. We called them Mimi and Pap because that’s what I named them, and I was the oldest grandchild. I don’t remember it, but for the first year of my life when my mother was still working, my grandmother watched me. Her factory had closed during Mom’s pregnancy, and Mimi didn’t go back to work so that she could be with me. I have vague memories of helping my grandfather lace his boots for work, but he was also retired by the time I was five years old.

It’s hard to summarize over twenty-five years of love.  Pap taught me to color and read to me.  Mimi drove me to nursery school and took me to lunch afterward.  They went to my school plays and concerts.  They burst with pride when I graduated from high school and college with honors.

Mimi, me and Pap

They were always there. Weekends, holidays, and for me summer and winter breaks in college. My grandmother and I talked on the phone every week that I wasn’t there. Pap passed away first, in January of 2006. Mimi was really lonely in those last months, her first time living alone in her entire life. She died just two weeks before Thanksgiving from surgical complications.

Pap's and Mimi's grave

They taught me the meaning of words like family and love and Thanksgiving.

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Our Little Charles

Walking through a cemetery gives you a peek into a world that is now gone. I think most of us go through our day to day life assuming that people who lived a century or so ago were pretty much like us. It takes a bit of a jolt to realize that those people’s worldview was radically different from our own, to the point where it would probably seem alien to us. We are shaped very much by the world we inhabit.


We generally assume today that a child is going to outlive his or her parents. We have eliminated childhood diseases that once ravaged populations. We have treatments and adaptive devices for many illnesses and impairments that cannot be cured to allow people to live full lives.  Infant and child mortality have been so radically decreased by modern medicine that it is a shocking tragedy when someone dies in childhood.


Yet all the children’s graves, often topped with lamb statues, remind us that for our people just a few generations ago, death in childhood was much, much more common. Still tragic, still devastating, but a tragedy repeated over and over in home after home.   And so today, when I walk through the cemetery and see the stone lambs, I think of my friends and family and especially of my healthy nieces and nephews, and I am so very grateful.

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If you enjoy this blog, you probably appreciate my feet, too. Clad in boots or sneakers, they get me around the cemetery, whether its down in the vault at Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, or up the steep hill of Ashtabula’s Chestnut Grove Cemetery. They’re pretty camera shy, but occasionally I discover my feet have snuck into a photo.

Eliakim Nash

And on that note, I need to go shopping for a new pair of sneakers and an extra pair of boots soon to keep my feet happy.

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This is Willoughby Village Cemetery’s most famous grave. It was erected and maintained by donations from the local townspeople.

In the early morning hours of Christmas Eve in 1933, a young woman arrived in Willoughby and checked into a local boarding house. According to the landlady, Mary Judd, the woman came downstairs around noon, asked about local church services, wished her a merry Christmas, and departed. The young woman was dressed entirely in blue that complemented her blue eyes and was friendly to those she passed in the streets. Within minutes, she stepped into the path of an oncoming train.

In memory of the girl in blue

The citizens of Willoughby were saddened and captivated by the circumstances that would lead a pretty, friendly young woman to commit suicide by train (according to eyewitnesses, her actions appeared deliberate). She carried no identification – the only clue in her purse was a train ticket to Corry, Pennsylvania. They hoped that family would come to claim her, and when no one did, they paid for her funeral and monument themselves and maintained it. It was not until 1993 that she was identified as Josephine “Sophie” Klimczak.


Here are articles about the girl in blue.  Even today, her grave is well maintained, shaded by a donated tree, and surrounded by flowers.

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Hopefully I won’t be pelted with refuse for this, but I enjoy watching the cycle of seasons in the cemetery. In Cleveland, we know that winter and snow (and ice) are just around the corner.

Massiello Monument

Gaylord Monument

But eventually winter will give way to spring, and the plants and flowers in the cemetery will bloom again.



Spring leads to summer. The day I took these pictures, the cemetery was so hot and sticky that I was afraid the camera lens would fog.



And then summer will inevitably turn into autumn, with all its attendant colors.



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For the next few days, I’ve been working on some posts about things I am thankful for, in honor of Thanksgiving. I want to preface these by saying that I framed the posts considering what walking through cemeteries make me grateful to have or experience.

And to kick things off, today I am especially thankful for non-profit cemetery foundations. Composed of dedicated, motivated volunteers, these organizations maintain and restore cemeteries because they value them and care about what happens to them. There are of course multiple cemetery foundations in the Cleveland area, but the one that I have had the most reason to appreciate is the East Cleveland Cemetery Township Foundation.

East Cleveland Township Cemetery

As I’ve written about previously, my great great uncle Ralph rests in East Cleveland Township Cemetery, struck down at age 27 by tuberculosis. Now Uncle Ralph may not have a stone (my research hasn’t been able to determine if he ever did), but thanks to the efforts of this foundation, his final resting place does have a nice new sign, a restored office, and a park outside that makes it more visible. The cemetery is also now maintained (raked in the fall, mowed in the summer). The foundation volunteers have removed dead and diseased trees, righted fallen monuments, and made cemetery records accessible online. In short, they have brought this cemetery back to life.


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