I went to a High School which was immediately adjacent to a large local cemetery in my neighborhood. This place was not an unfamiliar place at all. All of my family members were buried in this cemetery and I was used to visiting it on a somewhat regular basis. For that matter, most of the people that I knew who were buried were in this particular cemetery. I grew up around and in it. It's strange, there were a lot of my friends who were adverse to walking on the same side of the street as it let alone step foot within the gates but for some unknown reason these fears were never a part of me.
There were tales about people who had gone into the cemetery and had never again come out. There were tales about packs of wild dogs being inside that would tear you apart if you stumbled upon them. There were even tales about a man who lived in there who would attack unsuspecting visitors and steal from them and harm them. Many people I knew had heard of these tales yet no one knew anyone that any of this had ever happened to. Perhaps these stories were concocted to keep kids like me from going in unsupervised. I really don't know how they started but I do know that they were perpetuated.
Maybe it was bravery, possibly stupidity but probably just curiosity that led me to begin visiting this place for more than dropping off some flowers and saying a little prayer. I discovered that it was like an adventure just walking the cemetery and reading markers and wondering about the past. There was a tree lined drive at the gates of the cemetery that had trees that in summer gave fruit that was delicious; they may have been blackberries, but I'm not sure. I would usually pick myself a handful and eat them as I hiked across the hills looking for the oldest grave I could find. One day my snooping paid off big time when I came across an unlocked Mausoleum; to a 12 year old this was like a prospector hitting the mother lode. The date that followed the surname carved in the stone above the door read 1892.
The stone door was hinged but still very heavy to open. To my surprise, once inside, there on two stone bases were 2 very ornate metal coffins. I can only compare the coffins to pots because they had metal lids at the top where the heads were that were removable. Under these lids was glass and under the glass I could easily make out two people; a man and a woman who had been dead nearly 80 years. Both were black in color yet completely distinguishable; the man had a long red frizzy beard and was dressed in a suit. The woman was dressed in some sort of gown and I could make out that her hair had been pulled back perhaps in a bun. I could see where she had earrings on that had fallen to the fabric at the side of her neck when her ears had rotted off and there was a ring on her finger. Both of them appeared to have long fingernails but I now know that they hadn't continued to grow, they only appeared real long because the skin around them had shrunken way back. It was at that time that I decided that the door couldn't be left unlocked; this was their sanctuary, I didn't even belong in there. The next day I went back with a padlock and a chain that I took from my basement, went in one more time to take a look and then locked the heavy door with the chain, pocketed the key and left. I never went back inside and eventually lost the key but 30 years later I went back after the funeral of a family member. The door was still chained but with a different lock. It wouldn't have mattered if the lock was the same because I didn't have the key for many, many years but I was glad to know that someone else also felt the need to keep them secure. Now that I think back on this I guess I've been taking care of the dead longer than I once thought.