Dancing Skeleton

I have a story from my past that’s especially appropriate for this time of the year. After all, today marks the second and final day of the holiday that’s celebrated in Mexico as El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) while Halloween happened two days ago. Both holidays traditionally focused on honoring the dead while those who traditionally observed the Gaelic festival known as Samhain (from which Halloween was derived from) believed that the veil that traditionally separates the living from the dead is at its thinnest so all kinds of cross-communication between the two can occur.

My late grandparents had lived in various places around the U.S. because of my grandfather’s occupation (I believe he was an electrical engineer but I’m not exactly 100% sure about that). They lived in places like Roanoke, Virginia (where my father was born); Kansas City, Kansas; and Kalamazoo, Michigan. They moved to Maryland when my grandfather got a civilian job with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, where he spent the rest of his career before he retired. They settled in Ellicott City, where they purchased this house sometime in the 1950’s. Even though he was already an adult, my father lived there for a few years until he married my mother (at the time grown adult children were expected to live with their parents until marriage) while his younger brother (my uncle) spent the rest of his childhood and teen years living there.

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The house was mostly one level with three bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a large kitchen, a den, a two-car garage, and two bathrooms (one was in the hallway and the other could be accessed only by walking through the master bedroom). There was a subterranean basement, which was very prone to flooding. (I remember my grandparents owned a sump pump for such occasions.) At the time they owned this house, they had to rely on well water and the toilets were connected to a septic tank so they had to periodically call someone to pump that tank out.

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When my grandparents owned this house the driveway was covered with gravel. My father used to complain about having to drive the car over all these tiny stones when we used to visit when I was a child. As the next photo shows, it looks like one of the subsequent owners had the driveway paved with blacktop so the surface is now pretty smooth.

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I remember this part of Ellicott City was very rural when I used to visit there as a child.  All of the houses at the time had at least one acre of land. (As I drove through that area recently I noticed a bunch of new housing developments that weren’t even there in my grandparents’ time. The newer homes had less lawn than the older homes like the one my grandparents lived in. The area also has a lot more traffic than I remembered as a child.)

My grandparents had neighbors on both sides of their home. One one side of my grandparents’ home was another home whose occupants did some small-scale farming on the side. (I don’t think they were full-time farmers because the land they were on wasn’t big enough for any kind of large-scale farming operation.) I never met the people who lived there and I don’t even know if my grandparents ever bothered with them all that much. I remember they kept a couple of Hereford cows in their yard and they used to frequently walk over to the fence separating the property lines whenever I was close to that fence and they would just look at me. I still remember their brown bodies and white faces and I also remember my father telling me what kind of cows they were when I mentioned their white faces. I think the neighbor might have had a horse at one point because I remember a few times when a horse would come over to that fence as well whenever I was there.

As for the neighbors on the other side of my grandparents’ home, well they were there but one would be hard-pressed to say that they “lived” there.

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My grandparents lived next to the Good Shepherd Cemetery. I don’t know why they would purchase a house in such an odd location unless they got it relatively cheap. I remember my mother felt uneasy at the idea that they lived next to a graveyard. But they lived there for many years. After my grandfather died when I was 12, my grandmother continued to live in that house by herself. For a few years after my grandfather’s death she worked at Hutzler’s, which had a store in a shopping center just a few miles from the home (and which I also mentioned in a previous post). She worked there for a few years until she was laid off in a cost-cutting measure where the managers were instructed to get rid of all employees who worked there for longer than five years simply because they earned more money than newer employees. (I remember when my grandmother called my parents’ home the day she was laid off because she was very upset. She basically liked her job and had made new friends. Hutzler’s went out of business a few years after my grandmother lost her job.)

She decided to retire after being laid off and she continued to live in that house for a few years until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1980’s. Her cancer was detected early enough so she could undergo a lumpectomy followed by radiation. Soon after she was given a clean bill of health, my grandmother decided that she could no longer handle being in the house she had lived in all those years and she wanted to move to a smaller place. I remember when she put the house on the market and my mother was skeptical that my grandmother would even find a buyer because of its location next to the cemetery. My grandmother found a willing buyer so she used the proceeds from that sale to move into a small rental apartment located just a few miles from her old place. She lived there for a few years until her doctor discovered that the cancer had returned with a vengeance. She moved into a hospice and lived there until she died about a year later. (I was around 28 or 29 at the time.)

I have many memories of when I used to frequently wander in that cemetery while the adults were busy socializing. That was the only thing that was within walking distance from my grandparents’ home since everything else of interest (such as a store) were located so far away that one needed a car to get there. I would look at the graves while I walked around. All I can say is that I never encountered a ghost or a zombie or some other supernatural undead creature during my wanderings. At the time the border between my grandparents’ property and the cemetery were marked by a row of trees and small bushes. I used to cut through the shrubbery from the backyard in order to get into that cemetery. That property border is now fenced off and it was probably erected by either one of the subsequent owners of that house or the cemetery itself.

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The next photo shows a fence that now blocks off the backyard entirely from the front yard.

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The front yard still has the border of trees and shrubbery still in place along the dividing line.

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Good Shepherd Cemetery is a small cemetery compared to others that I’ve been to in my lifetime. One can easily spend no more than two hours there and feel that one has seen everything there.

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Some of the headstones date as far back as the 1870’s. There were headstones so old that the writing on them are now illegible because the lettering have faded.

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But there were plenty of old headstones that were still in pretty decent shape, such as this one where Robert Sylvanis Davis has been resting in peace since his death in 1909.

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This headstone looks like it has been slowly sinking into the ground for many years. Unless someone rescues it, there will come a time when the headstone of Alice V. will be completely buried along with her original coffin.

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I saw this one headstone that had recently toppled over and broke in a few pieces.

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And it looks like these headstones were previously broken then glued back together.

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The only notable person whose grave I found was one for Bernarr Graham Busbice, a musician who performed professionally under the name Buzz Busby and he became known as the Father of Washington, DC Bluegrass Music. He was someone who was buried long after both of my grandparents passed away.

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Here’s are a few recordings of Buzz Busby in his prime.

I remember whenever I wandered the cemetery as a child, I used to feel sad when I encountered the grave of a baby or a child who was younger than me because I was alive and walking around while they were already dead and buried. I would especially feel sad whenever someone left a toy or some other personal memento at the gravesite. Many of the headstones of these children include statues of angels or lambs.

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Even though this unnamed baby boy died soon after he was born in 1959, someone still left a recent bouquet of artificial flowers at his grave. Which indicates that this baby still means a lot to his family 56 years after his death.

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There were quite a few headstones with photographs on them so people would know what the deceased looked like in life. The older graves had black and white photographs.

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The newer graves had photographs in living color.

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People mostly left flowers at the graves. When I visited this cemetery just a few weeks before Halloween, I noticed a lot of Halloween decorations that were left at the graves as well.

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This grave of a man who died a year ago had a black and white photograph and an engraved picture on the headstone, a Baltimore Ravens sticker, flowers, a couple of tiny pumpkins, a carved jack o’lantern, and even a personal note written on an erasable board with dry markers.

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There were all kinds of headstones at this cemetery, some of which looked like works of art. This headstone had a nice nature scene etched on the side.

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This headstone looked relatively plain on one side until you looked at the back and saw this intricate etching.

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Then there was this headstone shaped like a park bench. It looked pretty inviting to sit on.

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Some of you reading this are probably wondering if my grandparents are buried at Good Shepherd Cemetery. It would’ve been appropriate considering all those years that they lived in the house next to it. But, no, they weren’t buried there at all. Instead they were buried just a few miles away at the cemetery located on the grounds of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

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