My first question the day I started working at Oak Hill Cemetery…
“What are those markers on the gravestones?”
When my mother died a few years before that, in the mid-60s, my father was offered by Oak Hill; for an extra fee, “perpetual care.” I hope he didn’t buy it. I’m sure… having just been left to raise us by himself… he probably wasn’t listening as carefully as he could have been at the time.
A few years later I worked at Oak Hill, and then another cemetery when I went to college. After about 3 years, off and on, working at cemeteries, I can tell you that we didn’t mow any more, or care for perpetual any more, than any of the other sites. And if the cemetery looked ratty, the perpetual care sites did too. We dug them the same and tossed the dirt back in with as much “care.” We reset the stones just as often… or not. About as many were tipped over. Well, there was one section: 17; part of Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica, NY, that got worse treatment compared with other sections. It’s on a steep hill and almost everyone there died well over 100 years old. Even if they sold perpetual care back then, probably no one was keeping track anymore.
We even had graves where we’d discover that one “perpetual care” coffin was almost buried on top of another. That’s when we would do what euphemistically was referred to as a “removal.” I remember the crew telling me we had a few where they discovered a third; even older, burial below the second one. I always wondered what happened to what little was left of those who were “removed.” I don’t ever remember digging another grave for them.
On the 4th this seemed an appropriate topic because, as a country, we need to look at how much we believe is America is providing “perpetual care.” Or is it always something sold to us that means little to nothing? Packaging… simply packaging.
I understand in a finite universe that there is no such thing as “perpetual.” Eventually humanity, all our creations and everything we were and did will be broken down into basic elements. Nothing lasts forever. So this is a matter of “how much.”
All those gravestones of the war dead. How many died because they were promised the moon by a recruiter, or VA benefits, or thought they would be supported by their country but, instead, they fought for a thankless cause that’s now listed under the “oops” category in history?
They deserved a different kind of perpetual care. Better. Lasting a lifetime and beyond when it comes to honoring them while they’re still here… and also how we treat their graves, how much we visit them. Some got, and get, bupkes. Some… far less than promised.
How politicians live up to their promises certainly seems to qualify. You vote because you believe, but they do “other” for political expediency. They say, “Yes, I know I will be representing even those who disagree, and I should be concerned with their wants and needs too…” but they wind up representing only their base. The rest of us? Annoying mosquitoes and serfs who should just “shut the hell up.” Then you have the opposite: those who stand up for nothing except whatever it takes to stay in office.
How about corporations who buy politicians? The current health care debate could use an absence of the influence of big pharma and companies that sell health care. If CIGNA or Phizer, to provide two examples, are as good at what they do as they should be they wouldn’t need to line political pockets. While corporations are made up of people, collectively they don’t deserve more perpetual care than we do. Our most famous documents don’t start out, “We the corporations…”
When I go back to Oak Hill Cemetery occasionally, although his ashes lie elsewhere, I see that I haven’t had my father’s side of the double stone carved after more than 20 years. I am guilty too, I suppose.
So this 4th let’s focus a little less on the fireworks, the food, the beer… and a little more on “care.” We won’t be here forever. But if we lead by example perhaps future generations may help put the perpetual into the phrase, and a lot less “un.”
Now where did I put the number to the gravestone cutting company that serves Oak Hill?
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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