I recently spent some time in a small country cemetery staring at graves with my name on them. Until I saw it written in stone, I held fast to the assumption that ours was a rare and unique clan. Turns out we’re as common as table salt, if you know where to look.
In a small churchyard, in the bluff country above Winona, Minnesota sit smooth red granite monoliths side-by-side with ancient white obelisks and rough-cut black marble markers. Each as unique as the person buried below, but linked by the same five letters that spell out our family name. The oldest stones are barely legible with moss and lichen thriving in their inscriptions. The youngest, my father’s, still glows with its show-room finish. Some stones like his, reflect long lives, while others span a single day.
I never before entertained the thought of a family plot as my final resting place. Not because I doubt my own mortality, but rather because we grew up deliberately disconnected from anyone beyond our nuclear family. My father was illegitimate, unsafe and unwelcome in his stepfather’s home. He survived to adulthood through the kindness of relatives and with just cause, raised us with little or no contact with his side of the family tree. It surprised me, then, to find that his final wishes included such a permanent proximity to the clan that rejected him. Maybe it was dad’s way of having the last word on what constitutes legitimate family. And that last word is written in stone.