Groundskeeper

This past Saturday morning was the day before Easter, the day churches celebrate the Lord descending into Hades to free the captives. On the way to visiting me from the other side of the mountains, my sister swung by the grave site of our aunt Druscilla who was buried in 1882 near the house where I live. The cemetery grounds keeper was out this past Saturday morning, mowing grass around the graves. My sister told him about our search for the grave site of Druscilla’s husband, John. We had all but given up for clues as to where he might be buried. One of the earliest settlers west of the Mississippi, coming to California by ship in 1843, he traveled lots of unmapped territory, and in his old age went looking for gold in Mexico. Near Mazatlan he became deathly sick and his son, Ben, went to Mexico, found him, brought him back to Monterey County, where he then died. The county records have no account of where he was buried, nor do any of the history societies, or books. I had given up looking for where he might lie. The history of his activities in old Spanish California mostly occurred before very many records were kept, before California became part of the United States.

The grounds keeper my sister spoke with had an old book, a hand-written ledger, that listed who was buried in this cemetery. I had seen the book once before and had used it to find Druscilla’s plot. But the grounds keeper knew a little of the history of this pioneer cemetery that no one else seems to have known, which is that some of the narrow, paved roads that crisscross through the cemetery were added in later by thoughtless members of the Odd Fellows, who long ago sold the rights for the roads to a rancher. Knowing this history and interpreting the layout of the old ledger, the grounds keeper claims that my missing uncle who we’ve looked for so many years, is actually buried right beside wife Druscilla, only his plot is not marked, like hers, because his marker or tombstone, was removed so that the road might pass over his burial site. His name is written in the ledger right on top of the road, which made no sense to anyone but the grounds keeper. This mystery of the missing uncle now seems to be resolved.

The grounds keeper loaned my sister the old ledger for a spell and it has landed in my hands for further examination. This ragged, hundred and fifty year old ledger carries the history of the village I have been living in for forty. It is perhaps the most precious piece of history in the village, if not the whole county, and it rests in my possession today–a book of life and of death, that came into my hands on the Saturday before Easter. My sister has this great sense of the presence of the divine to be found in every-day living, a gift that I wish I could better cultivate myself. Finding the old book and finding someone who could interpret the cryptic layout of the cemetery plots seemed to both of us to be on the order of the divine. The lesson for me is that I will never find anything if I don’t go look for it.

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