I purchased my very first home across the street from a cemetery. I had many fond memories of this place before I purchased my home; I took pictures there for my high school art class, I spent several nights there on LSD with friends but most importantly it was a an arboretum in the city center with a source of historical information; the workmanship of sculptures, the reverence and superstitions were often subtle and the obvious devastation of the Spanish Flu.
The cemetery spanned 15 acres and was at one time kept in half by a series of stone markers: one side was for public and Protestants and the other was consecrated Catholic ground. My house was of course on the consecrated side and my front door faced the plots of Priest and Nuns.
I have a funny story of a time in my early teens walking through the cemetery at night with friends and I had fallen into an open grave. It would seem that they had forgotten to cover it and as I struggled to climb my way out, with my friends being as helpful as teenage friends are, I managed to get my fingers around the head stone. Odd that it was already in place, before the body, but there was the grave stone of Father [redacted]. It was not so strange to me that many years having past when I left or returned home I always greeted Father [redacted] because he was right there outside my front door.
The trees there were majestic and often uncommon, for such a large plot of land in the middle of a busy downtown center it was peaceful and full of life – rabbits, a fox, three different kinds of squirrels and such a variety of bird I had never seen. In the spring it would bloom with a beautiful palette of colour and come fall it was spectacular to witness the variety of shades of warm browns, gold, red and yellow.
Needless to say I knew this cemetery well. I had watched families come and go in sadness, most never to return and rarely got to witness the living that would never leave. I will have to tell you the sad story of Mr. Kiss another time but it is important to note that such a place does have paved roads and was like a city within a city: you simply had to choose if it was a happy place or a sad one.
I walked the grounds in the rain, I walked them in the sun and when it was covered with clean white snow. On one particular day just as a severe snow storm was blowing in I noticed a bush with bright red berries – the snow had begun to accumulate on its branches and clusters but they burned bright red so the contrast was particularly startling. I was fascinated with the bush but could find no other bush like it within the cemetery.
I raised my nieces and taught them to ride their bikes in there, after all it was that safe and they were such a wonderful strange duo that they enjoyed this place more than I ever had the chance; being so young their imaginations were in full force. I once caught C the eldest trying to summon the dead so it was not surprising to me that the following winter this bush caught her eye.
‘That is a Rowan and its wood has magical properties’ she said to me running towards its branches. Now I should interject and tell you she is about 9 years old at this time and Harry Potter was not yet released, however being children born without TV in the home and living with academics they were subject to watching and reading material that would not normally be consider appropriate for a child.
She began to weave a wonderful tale for her sister and me of how this bush was planted here, let’s call the person Mrs Smith, over Mrs Smith to guard her from sorcery. Mrs Smith had been ill and lingered for some time and outside her proud home was a Rowan so naturally when Mrs Smith passed on her family planted the Rowan here to watch over her and keep her safe from bad people. ‘her family will always be able to find her in this place’ she said waving her arms up towards the top of the bush’ because it stands out just as she did in their lives’.
C was telling the story with such great detail, though perhaps a bit macabre for some, but with the Rowan in the background serenely covered in delicate snow it was believable if not magical. Me and her sister S were speechless it was a wonderful oral telling and we did not disturb the bush but took our leave in silence.
Her sister was filled with questions and I watched them both walk off together in the snow, C proud to be so knowledgeable and answering the questions as she saw fit: some factual and some pure fantasy but never dropping the folklore that filled the cemetery.
So Tis’personal and me thought why not get back to trying our lost craft once more. I chose to stipple The Rowan, from memory and do it no justice but it was nice to remember the story, the girls and the strange looking bush. She has posted her art project here and it is no wonder I found her so interesting right away, she is as talented as I had imagined.