Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Ancient Burials

On the western edge of Livonia, on Six Mile Road, there is a small hidden cemetery. It's an old place. It's not in use anymore. The most recent date I found on any grave was 1948, and it was the completion of a family plot. Most of the burial dates I saw were 19th century, much older. There was a 1790s birthdate on one marker, and many death dates in the 1850s.

Most of the graves here belong to a small group of three or four extended families. This was farmland as recently as the 1950s, before the urban sprawl moving outward from Detroit carried the wave of building past here. This was once a rural area, outside the city. Like many other graveyards, it was once a corner of a farmplot, a shared acre of land for all those who lived and died here.

Now there is only a fence on two sides of the cemetery. It's easy to walk in. It's overgrown with shrubs and trees. Some grave markers are half-buried in the grass; others are lost among newer trees. Some stones have broken and fallen, and weathered to flat illegibility. Others are better preserved, but still white and weathered in the cold winter sunlight.

it was cold and clear when we wandered through this small remnant cemetery, near the end of a winter day, just a week or so after the Solstice, when we wandered through here. None of us had known it was there. It hid behind buildings, surrounded by restaurants and condos, long since decommissioned and forgotten. Still holy ground, although no one has been laid to rest there in half a century. We only saw it by accident, as we drove by one afternoon; we've driven by there many times before, and never noticed it, hidden away as it was behind the family theatre and the restaurant. When we all got too cold to stay out in the wind any longer, as the shadows lengthened, we went over to a hotel restaurant and had a cocktail, warming ourselves with the living.

That was last week.

Tonight the snow is falling all over. Restless, I go out into the night town for awhile. The roads are slicking up, and all the stores are closed. Everything is quiet and inward, as winter lengthens past Solstice, as all the cheer of the winter holiday season settles down into the long wait till spring. The whole land seems depressed and darkened. I come home and light a fire in the fireplace, turning off all other lights, enjoying the flicker of the flames in the shadowed corners of the room. My parents' home has finally sold, and we are reaching a closure, a completion of that cycle, of their lives. From now on, it's all my life that I must engage with.

My sister dreamed last fall that my parents' spirits had been dancing in the empty rooms of their home, living it up as only the dead can. We don't remember them being big dancers during their lives, although I remember a story or two about them dancing early on in their marriage, before going to India. But now they've gone on, and the house was empty, and at last could be let go, and very soon after a buyer made an offer. I wandered through one last afternoon before leaving for Michigan, a week and more ago. Tonight I drove by, and the walkway lights are on, the For Sale sign is gone, and the house is dark, waiting to be moved into, waiting to come back to life, waiting for its new guests, the third family to live there, waiting once again for the breath of living to come back inside, and warm its every room, as the snow continues to fall outside on all the living, and the dead.

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