Aug. 26, 2018 UPDATE: Grave marker raised and leveled, in early August. I may be back in a few weeks.
I don’t go on many vacations and didn’t plan to write a blog on this one, but the most unusual thing happened while trying to visit my grandfather’s grave at the cemetery in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Pedro and I had gone to Flint to visit, and for me to meet his family for the first time.
We decided today, we would drive to Detroit and possibly visit an aquarium on the way back.
First stop was going to be visiting the grave of my Grandpa Leo, my father’s father who died in 1954. That means he lived 52 years and has been gone for 64. There wasn’t much warning. After that, my father moved to Florida, at 13, along with my Grandma Lillie and then my Aunt Diane.
I’ve been to the Oakview Cemetery twice before. First, I was with the family in 1989.
Then, I went by myself in 2001, while I was on a job interview and ended up getting offered the job to produce the 11:00 news at CBS-owned WWJ-Channel 62 in Detroit. Good thing I got the opportunity to stay in Philadelphia because not only did Channel 62 get rid of its newscasts, it also canceled the 10:00 news on its new sister-station WKBD-Channel 50, which was UPN and now The CW.
Anyway, I was with Pedro, his sister Olga, and their mother. We stopped off at the cemetery office and got directions to the grave. And we looked. And looked. And looked.
No sign of the headstone.
I had some idea of the area and was able to find some cousins, the Coltons, but no sign of my grandfather. Eventually, Pedro called the cemetery office and a guy named Peter came out to try to help us find it. And he couldn’t.
Then, he called a woman from the office who has a good reputation for finding missing graves. She was able to locate some stone markers but they’d been covered with dirt and were very dry, so we had trouble reading them.
Eventually, we figured out numbers 85, 86 and 87 in the area. I went to the place and started digging with my fingers, trying to find grave number 1 in the right section.
And there it was, under at least four inches of dirt! There were others completely covered, and pretty deep, as well.
Uncovering all the dirt wasn’t easy. Pedro found some sticks that we used to try to get the dirt off the headstone. Even his elderly mother was on the ground, pulling grass out of the way!
Finally, the cemetery people called a worker with a shovel to lift the stone up a few inches.
We had baby wipes in the car and used those to clean the stone, and were finally able to read it clearly.
Peter said he put a work order in and tomorrow morning, the stone should have extra dirt underneath to keep it above ground. Pedro and I have a few more days here and will fly out of Detroit, so we’ll probably be back to check.
This just goes to show what regular visits to cemeteries mean. They’re supposed to provide perpetual care, but how do you know? How often do you visit?
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are popular. So are birthdays, anniversaries and Memorial Day. The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for Jews.
Of course, it’s not easy traveling from Philadelphia to Michigan, or my family from Miami to Michigan. What about all the people in Florida with loved ones buried in New York?
The decision to have my Grandpa Leo buried at that location was made many years ago. Then came the decision to move to Florida, and my Grandma Lillie died and was buried down south in 1976. She has an upright headstone. He has a flat one. Times changed a lot in those almost 20 years, and there’s nothing I can do — or have the right to do — to change anything.
It gets me thinking that people have to decide what they want, and make sure their wishes are known, and will be followed. And also make sure the money is there.
Thanks to Pedro, his sister and their mother for digging, patience and other help with the search. And I’m sorry that what should’ve been a 15-20 minute stop, including directions at the office, turned into a two-hour ordeal.
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