Dying to Get In
Thirty years ago today -- Saturday, May 1, 1993 -- my father, a few close relatives and I gathered at Pomona Cemetery to inter the cremated remains of my mother, Martie Hubble Bernhart, who had passed away three weeks earlier.
In September of 1991, I had driven my mom to the cemetery so she could sign documents and prepay for creation of a marker with her name and placement of a cremation urn next to her parents' gravesite in the Hubble family plot. I recall a room in the cemetery office building with typewriters on the desks and steel files in the corners, no computers. Only nineteen months later, it was necessary to let Pomona Cemetery know that my mother had died.
My dad made the phone call. I never saw him as angry as he became when the first person he spoke to in the cemetery office informed him they had no record of arrangements in place for anyone named Bernhart or Hubble. Eventually, somebody else from the cemetery got on the line and reassured my father that the misfiled paperwork from the day my mom and I were there had been located, but not before they were likewise treated to an earful of my dad's rage at top volume and maybe even a sprinkling of profanity. I like to think Pomona Cemetery decided afterward the time was right to get computers.
As you'll probably have deduced, Craig Hubble was my mother's brother, my uncle.
A few steps from the Hubble family plot is a large headstone for George and Mary Page. This always amused my mom because, though the Pages weren't relatives of ours, Page was her father's middle name and the name by which he was known from childhood. The visibility of the neighboring Page headstone also made it easy to find the Hubbles whenever we pulled into the cemetery.
On recent journeys to my mother's resting place, I've found myself wondering when was the last time someone came to visit George or Mary Page. She died in 1914 and he followed two years later. That means no realistic possibility of anybody who knew them still being alive.
Given the Pages' birth years, children (if they had any) would likely have been born no later than the 1880s. Perhaps those children lived to the 1960s and continued to make pilgrimages to Pomona Cemetery. But even in that scenario, the Pages might not have had company for the past 60 years. My curiosity led me to the Internet.
While I wasn't expecting bulging dossiers on George and Mary Page when I searched their names and various keywords, I anticipated discovering at least a detail or two. But all I unearthed was a website purporting to catalog every occupant of Pomona Cemetery. First, the Hubbles are omitted completely. The Pages are included, but this site lists different birth and death years for Mary than appear on the headstone and gives her a different middle initial.
Otherwise, not a single aspect of the lives of George and Mary Page is memorialized online. And if the Pages didn't leave behind a network of family and friends as impressive as their headstone, it's conceivable -- and a bit mind-blowing to contemplate -- that more than a hundred years has passed since someone stood at that spot to pay their respects.
So where does that leave you and me? With few exceptions, forgottenness is the future of each of us.
Last December, Laurie and I traveled to Jacksonville, Fla., and took advantage of the opportunity to see nearby Savannah, Ga., hometown of the great songwriter Johnny Mercer. Mercer is definitely not forgotten, as indicated by the signs one encounters upon entering Bonaventure Cemetery, pointing visitors to his final stop.
Mercer resides in an elaborate family plot, a setting made suitably creepy by above-ground graves and live oak trees whose branches droop mournfully.
I added the arrow.
I hope Johnny Mercer's legacy is secure enough that he'll still be drawing crowds when he's been gone a hundred years. But not withstanding the special point Laurie and I made of seeking out Mercer's resting place, and despite the fact that my own mother's ashes lie under a granite slab with her name engraved on it, I'm of the opinion that cemeteries are rather useless institutions. If I want to talk to my mom, and I continue to talk to her on a regular basis, I can do it wherever I happen to be, in Pomona or not.
My father desired no part of the traditional graveyard ritual when it came to his own remains. Maybe that's a clue into why he was quick to explode in fury on the phone when Pomona Cemetery couldn't find the papers my mom had signed a year and a half before. He was cremated and we scattered his ashes in the mountains.
I haven't decided where I want my remains laid. Just don't count on finding me in a cemetery.