Cemetery Musings

I’ll tell you about my first real funeral.

I was little, seven or eight. My great grandma Essie passed away.

Essie lived the last decade or so of her life in a corner of Colorado where the flat plains were sown with wheat fields stretching as far as the eye could see. The Rocky Mountains didn’t even smudge the western horizon.

Julesburg is so small you could ride a bike across town in the time it takes to sing three verses of the Star Spangled Banner.

I don’t remember the service itself except that it happened in a little church within a block of my grandmother’s house on a gorgeous spring day.


Afterwards, I walked down the sidewalk with my sisters and parents, and I started to cry. The sun was a warm kiss against my skin. A cool, silky breeze soothed away its heat. Birds sang. The scent of lilacs wafted on the air.

It broke my heart.

Great Grandma Essie would never experience any of this again.

I started a list in my head of all the other wonderful things she’d miss: Christmas morning, Humming Birds, me…. I cried harder.

I remember sitting on the edge of the bed in my grandmother’s pink guest room, still crying, Mom sitting beside me.

Despite weekly Sunday school classes, I had no concept of a place Grandma Essie could go that could possibly be better than this. Wouldn’t she miss us? Wouldn’t she be all alone? I don’t envy my mom that day. Though I don’t remember her words, I recall a sense of mild desperation in the arm she wrapped around me.

Part of my distress was the idea that not everyone got to go to that wonderful place called heaven that Mom and Sunday school tried to describe. My teachers didn’t preach hell and brimstone, not to kids my age, but you hang around at church long enough and even seven-year-olds hear rumors.

At 92, Great Grandma Essie was a grumpy, old woman. She’d had a hard life, been abandoned by two husbands, raised two children alone on a farm in the Midwest in the days before electricity and cars and Zoloft. She’d sent both of her kids, daughter and son, to college.  She was a tough, old broad. To me, she’d always been a slightly scary, very fragile, old lady who wore sagging stockings and slept in her rocking chair when we visited. She died in her sleep, alone, in a gloomy, cramped apartment that smelled funny. Would she make it to heaven?

“Of course,” my mother said, gently squeezing my shoulder as I sobbed.

“But, how do you know?”

That’s the question, isn’t it?

A Threefer in Kearney, Missouri

Kearney Missouri, a town of only 10,000 boasts three nice, old cemeteries.

The notorious outlaw Jessie James is buried (reburied and DNA verified) in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. If you’re into that kind of tombstone tourism, definitely check it out. Kearney’s not shy about claiming its fallen son.  Visit his family farm nearby. There’s a Jesse James festival every summer and a gorgeous park in town named after him.

Mount Olivet, Kearney, Missouri

Mount Olivet, Kearney, Missouri

A few blocks from Mt. Olivet is, Fairview Cemetery.

Nobody famous or infamous buried here as far as I could tell. It’s still in town, but off the main drag. Mature trees and pastures border three sides. Nice spot. 


Before you head out of town, stop for a great cuppa here at Mojo’s.

This cemetery is one of my favorites and close to home in Kearney, Missouri.

Muddy Forks Cemetery my favorite discovery near Kearney, is just 1.7 miles north of town on Hwy 33.

I just love the name! There aren’t any forks in the road here, muddy or otherwise, so I can’t tell you how it came to be called that.

It’s up on a hill, bordered on all sides by wire fences and pasture land, a great, quiet place to sit under a shady tree and watch the world go by. There are over 400 people buried here, one famous resident, Clellend Miller, was a member of the James gang. Otherwise it’s just regular folks.

I often wonder when I find these little cemeteries out in the middle of nowhere, who gets buried there nowadays. It’s a tiny place. They’d have to be kind of selective about newcomers or they’d over-run the pasture in no time.

Maybe there’s not much demand for spots here, but I can’t imagine why not. I think it’d be a great place to rest in peace.

My First Funeral

 I’ve been obsessed with cemeteries since I organized

my first funeral.Pregnant guppy

When I was a kid, one of several fishes my sisters and I kept in a freshwater aquarium died.  Since we didn’t care about him much, he didn’t really even have a name. Until we found him belly-up. Then he had to have a name – for the TOMBSTONE.

Deciding on Flashy, we made a sparkly, little casket out of aluminum foil lined with a folded square of soft, pink toilet paper. With me leading the way, I was the oldest, we carried his body slowly, in procession through the living room, the kitchen, out the back door.

At the graveside, we sang swing low, sweet chaaar-ri-ah-aht!  Words were said – sad, respectful ones about Flashy’s tragically short life.

We discussed the six-feet-under concept, but our mother convinced us — I believe her exact words were, “No, you will NOT dig a six foot hole by the back patio!”  — that six inches would be more than enough for a creature Flashy’s size.

We buried him under the Skunk bush. That was our nickname for a rare and gorgeous species of Azalea that blooms a brilliant orange, but has the unfortunately pungent scent of skunk.English: Azalea 'Hinodegiri' in full flower in...

Flashy wouldn’t mind the smell. We marked his final resting place with a Popsicle-stick-cross beautified with crayon.  There may have been tears, but I don’t think so. The feeling I remember most about the whole affair is glee.