This lovely emerald isle was my Narnia whenever we visited my mother’s parents in Watertown.

Yeah, I know. Not much when I think about the camp that truly felt like Narnia to me. But my grandparents had no yard of which to speak, and the park  of the forgotten portal was off-limits without a grown-up. Something about drowning, or strangers, or, you know, those boring things grown-ups think about when there’s adventure to find!

Beyond the emerald isle, you can see a fenced-off cemetery. It’s very old–clearly once the outskirts of the town, until they built around it. It covers the entire hillside, a mile if not more. We always drove past it to go into town, and every time, my eyes fixated on this:


Hard to catch, but I wanted you to see what my kiddie eyes saw: a stone tree.

I didn’t understand it. Why did someone build a stone tree in a cemetery? What’s it mean? Who’s it for? I imagined other strange creatures of stone, a whole land captured in a moment, eternally asleep until the right magic could wake it.

“No, Jean, you can’t play there. Good girls don’t go and play in cemeteries. NO, we are NOT going in there.” Neither my grandparents nor my mother seemed to remember that we used to live smack-dab next to a cemetery up north until I was 4, where our yard WAS the cemetery. So, was I evil for playing in it then?


Years passed before I finally dared to go it alone. Living at boarding school, free of sports and off of work. My grandmother in heaven, my grandfather in another part of town. We were told that GOOD students don’t go to this side of town, too much seedy behavior from the public children, keep OUT of there–

–until finally: “Fuck you, this is MY hometown, so I’M GOING,” I thought quietly and respectfully to myself. For I did think of Watertown as mine. It’s been the only place I’ve really known all my life. So to be told a precious piece of my little years was tainted by others’ sin…well. Note the aforementioned thought.

After visiting the park, I looked down the road, and remembered the hill. The cemetery.

Years of looking through the fence. Of a stone tree through a car window.

I had to see.



No, these pictures aren’t from the 90s, sorry. 🙂 And I’m sorry to report the cemetery wasn’t the magical world trapped in reality as I had dreamt back then. What I found was the past entombed in the present.

At last.


Rusted spikes run round the graves. I see old hoops for a chain to run across the opening. Someone did not want these places touched by strangers. I am sorry, but…I need to see.

Two books: one so faded I cannot read, and I have nothing with which to trace. Words lost to time and sight, but not to my fingers. If only I had the tools…. The other book marks names and dates. A hummingbird forever flying, vines forever climbing. But the tree has no top. A tree with no branches cannot live.

Why such small pieces of stone life? Surely a stone tree, branches and all, would symbolize life eternal, right out of Eden.

Perhaps the one who commissioned this was not thinking of life eternal. Perhaps all he, or she, wanted was some bit of hope clawing up through the ground. A flicker of life that darts in and out of the corner of one’s eye. One that could never be caught.

Whoever it was, this person wanted to sit with those laid to rest, and be with them. The difference in tombs, though…why but a trunk face for one, while a formal tomb with book for the other?

No inscription of any kind could be found on the trunk. Perhaps…not the one really loved? And yet this one was allowed inside the compound. Curious.

It made me think of another grave in another town.

I looked to the sky, to my empty hands. I had no flowers to give, but…



No works of art marking where the dead rest this time. For every plaque embedded into the ground, you can instead see a bouquet of artificial flowers, courtesy of the memorial park.


A small yellow and white collection of fibers and plastic mark my father’s place. It might wave about in the wind for weeks, months even, like the artificial Christmas wreath I once found on my grandfather’s grave in June. Faded, broken.



The closest thing to statue work is here: a tower with each side portraying a Gospel writer. Dad got St. Luke. He’d have liked that, I think: the practical doctor who saw Jesus better the lives of others’ through His Words and Actions.  Dad referred to Luke in more sermons than any other book of the Bible.He worked among all, gave them hope and faith, just as he learned from his Savior.

Do I wish we had given my father more of a marker? Good Lord, no…well, maybe a walk-in stone Tardis, but that’s besides the point. No, Dad, and me, and all of my family, are firm believers that death is but a chapter break, and that the bones and ashes placed in the earth are simply that–bones, ashes. The soul is not in that box, but in the heavens, beautiful as a star, and far, far happier. The last thing Dad would have wanted was for everyone to fixate on this rectangle with his name on it, and think that’s all it comes to.


I get into the car as thunder bordered on the edge of the air. Grab a random burned CD and turned it up so I wouldn’t be lost to tears. And on comes “Journey of the Sorcerer” orchestrated by Joby Talbot. It just so happens to be the theme for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, a favorite author of my father’s. Banjo and piano meets with raindrops, drops turned to streams as the brass swells to the that rebellious staccato up and down, down and up. Set to repeat, I feel the build and dance every minute of that drive home, awash in memory of  Dad’s eager talks about childhood adventures in Milwaukee, how Douglas Adams wrote the best Doctor Who stories in the Baker years–

–and hope to God this downpour smites the plastic flowers.


53 thoughts on “Markers

  1. I could wax lyrical re the theology of a magic quest within the real world yet you’ve done that already with this post! Even as an old atheist I’ll score you top marks for fine piece, crafted exquisitely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I think the theology of a magic quest in the real world morphs from country to country, town to town. I do hope you wax lyrical your own–I’d eagerly follow you down the path of your words to what you uncover.
      I admit: I was wondering how you’d feel about the heaven stuff. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • The heaven stuff? Each to their own I reckon. Thinking about it, my mind is numb today to the extent that I’ve been walking about the shoreline for two hours, so I shall attempt a poem on the heaven stuff that should not offend any one…I truly hope.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If I remember my catechism, to “cause offense” means you cause one to sin. Anyone who gets all worked up because of someone else’s take on heaven stuff must have a faith as squishy as an overcooked pea. Time they tended their own kitchens, I say.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Mushy peas are a great favourite of mine! As a side dish to fish & chips they are a London speciality. More seriously, while I’d liked to persuade the entire planet that religion is a giant step backward (for a galaxy of reasoned reasons) if I were to do so and succeed then likely I’d have ruined their lives and that would not be a good thing. You’ve got me inspired though, it’s an almost poem/come short story and I’m 500 words in already…cheers for the prompt!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Brilliant! You’ll never persuade me to your side of things about religion (though it’s certainly been twisted into all sorts of f’ing terrible things), but I can’t wait to see you try in the “almost poem/come short story.” 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Young Ms Lee I would never even try to persuade you otherwise, ‘each to their own’ the libertarian take on things…yet although now finished the piece you have inspired needs a major tweak before posting. Purposely, it is not profound which is odd as the subject matter is one I am passionate about…come a new day I hope it isn’t rubbish, only a kip will tell! Kip means sleep this side of the pond!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I must use “kip” from here on out. 🙂 We are but travelers on this road together; we only read the road signs differently.
        Though now I’m trying to remember a Terry Jones quote that you might like, but I can’t think of it for the life of me…I’ll bother Bo, he’ll know…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Plan B Ms Lee. Didn’t like the piece I penned yesterday…all smiling on the surface, yet with an underlying ‘I know something believers don’t know’ taste about it – a bit like having a Jehovah’s Witness at your front door. Very unethical of me to even contemplate posting it. However, in answer to your heaven question, herewith a thing from a while back, common ground & Merlin. This is pretty much my view on everything and likely not too far from your own standpoint…he says hopefully!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nothing wrong with Plan Bs. And you know, it IS bloody hard not to sound like a pompous snit when it comes to beliefs: “Iiiiiii believe in Je-sus, so you’re going to hell, ladeeda!” I knew people like this, and I never liked that…superiority, I guess you’d call it. I mean, how the hell can anyone TALK about beliefs when they’re all looking down at each other through their noses? And I doubt your undercurrent is all that snotty, but the fact YOU could sense the unwitting presence of it says a lot about your kinder nature. Or you traveled forward in time and discovered the writing’s devastating aftermath, one of the two. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • True enough…that, ‘I know I’m right’ attitude was there…just missed it my enthusiasm for the idea of something to write that you prompted…all is not lost though, it is now reshaped as a silly time travelling tale of lunacy!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Conversation during tedious, squabble-filled, six-hour-long drive between mom and young daughter:

    “Mommy, who’s one of your favorite writers?”

    “Uh, Madeleine L ‘Engle, L..M. Montgomery, some guy named Shakespeare…”

    “No, Mommy, I mean someone you actually KNOW, someone who’s alive!”

    “Oh! That would be Jean Lee!”

    Liked by 1 person

      • I wish I was a fly on the wall for that moment! 😉

        Off to drink green tea – have you had some of that neighborly brew yet? I forgot to have some green tea @ my usual time this a.m. because I was rambling whist writing my new blog post….it’s NOT high literature, that’s for sure, and I know it’s too long/full ‘o typos, etc. etc. Oh well! I still loved writing it, what more can I say? XoXo

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good golly miss molly, this ain’t high literature, either. That stuff makes my head fuzzy. 😛
        Hey: when love is there, that’s what we feel, and share back. 🙂 Coffee gone, a gloomy sky, and a jungle-yard awaiting me at home. I’m keen to have some tea this afternoon after I get done mowing lawn. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s sparkling skies here but I know that sounds like I’m gloating; I’m not! Oh, how I wish you could join me and Lucy! We’re heading over to that gelato/espresso shop….it’s only 8 minutes away. Paradise. Enjoy that afternoon tea, my dear! XOXOXO

        Liked by 1 person

      • YUM. It rained here, of course, for all of 30 minutes–just enough to soak everything. Now I have to wait until dusk to mow, when Bo can watch the kids. UGH, why must grass grow so stubbornly!?


  3. Magnificent piece missus. I have always found cemeteries fascinating. The idea that we keep loved ones live there in a way but only while we are there to remember them. The stories you read on stones sometimes tell a whole world of almost fascinating’ sorrow. (Just thinking there of a few that stick in my mind). Glad you broke the mould hone. I mean if you’d grown up anywhere near me and I’d been your age, I’d have taken you on adventures…… x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooo, I can only imagine the adventures we’d have had back then… xxxx
      One of these days, when I call up the nerve–and piece together the time–to visit all the cemeteries where loved ones are buried.
      But yes. the ancient, forgotten cemeteries fascinate me. The ones out between towns, that might have been started by a country church shut down long ago. Such quiet, and you stand in them not knowing to give in to the peaceful air or to be unsettled by it…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Most excellent – like this quest to make writing – “Perhaps all he, or she, wanted was some bit of hope clawing up through the ground. A flicker of life that darts in and out of the corner of one’s eye. ” Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There is something comeplling about cemeteries. No wonder why, many writers use them as inspiration… They are places of passage, which, link different planes of “reality” … the mundane and the trascendent scope… Great post, Jean!… all my best wishes. Aquileana 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. At least half of my ancestors were Lutherans, but it is amazing how different are American graveyards from those in Europe. We love our graveyards 🙂 My mother visited my father’s grave every weekend, and whenever I came over, the first trip in the morning would be to the graveyard. I know that it is only ashes and stuff, but this tradition is too deep in my genes 🙂
    When I read your sad and beautiful writings, I always want to give you a big hug 🙂 You are so incredibly talented, that I believe you create portals just by yourself, wherever you go 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for this piece. There’s power in old cemeteries, even when they aren’t beautiful. I feel all the prayers said and tears shed there. While my husband was hospitalized for a stem cell transplant and other times closer to his death, I walked every day, even in January, in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY. It was as my husband quipped, “Conveniently located”–right across the road from the hospital. Frederick Douglas was buried there and Susan B Anthony and many more, but after my husband’s death and cremation, we put his ashes where he requested–under a large red oak in our forest. I thought there wouldn’t be a marker, but my sons wanted to build a cairn for their dad. I helped place the stones and they’re strongly in place after 10 years. That stony structure was kissed more times than I can remember and made me feel the solidity of grief. For more than a year, I walked there every day to offer a new bouquet of flowers. In the winter, it was pine cones and feathers or shells from a trip. I go less often now, but it’s a place steeped in grief and prayers for strength to withstand. When life smacks me down, I know where to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing your kind words and warm memories. It’s been five years now, and I feel like I’m the only one that goes–not often, but I like to lay fresh flowers near his headstone, so close to St. Luke, writer of his favorite gospel. I don’t care for the “ordering” of fake flowers per season, as some relatives do. Either place them there yourself, or don’t bother.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: #writing #music: Peter Gabriel’s “Wallflower” | Jean Lee's World

  9. This is just lovely. Cemeteries have so much atmosphere, so many stories. My father was cremated and scattered in the memorial garden, so we don’t have a focal point. Mum was scattered on her family’s grave, but we haven’t added her to the GraveStone, she didn’t want it. The bigger the gravestone doesn’t reflect the size of the love.

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