We had so many sunny days last week! And after the time change, it was light enough after dinner to go for walks. Auntie Bridgett and I visited the dead people at Lone Fir Cemetery.
This is my favorite cemetery in town. It has been used since the 1840s and has fewer rules about what sort of marker people can put up. It has the best of old, new, immortal, fleeting, tragic and silly.
On this walk we found a new marker. Burton Stein passed away a year ago this January, and his headstone has just been installed. Folks had already come around and placed stones on it. This is a Jewish gesture of respect. Flowers are fleeting, we believe. Stones live forever. I’m not sure what the dented candle stick is for, but I applaud the gesture.
We walked around and enjoyed watching the sun disappear over the west hills. The boxy looking object in the photo is the very top of the tallest building in Portland, the Wells Fargo Building.
When my Momma, your Great Grandma Billie, was getting ready to die, one of the last things she said was, “I’m gonna put my boat on the porch, and head west.” And the next day, she did. Heading into the sunset isn’t such a bad way to go.
Where do you find fresh, blooming flowers in the middle of winter? Turns out, it’s the cemetery. Lone Fir, to be exact. I hadn’t visited the Dead People for a while, so yesterday I bundled up and headed over.
The skies were grey, drippy and cold, and I was enjoying the sound of mud squishing under my boots when I saw the bright color in the distance. It was a new grave, belonging to Sergey Arutygnov, covered in flowers and ribbons. I can’t read Russian, but I recognize it. Go with God, Sergey.
Further along there was another flower-covered Russian grave. There is quite a large Russian population in Portland, but I only ever notice it here at Lone Fir. From what your mommy Olga tells me, our dark, damp weather must feel like a summer holiday compared to Russian winters.
This Russian woman’s family has planted a rose bush on her grave and tended it since she passed away in 2008. What a sweet way to make sure you visit your Babushka every spring.
There was more sad beauty as I walked around. One of the magnificent chestnut trees has been taken down, which steals some of the deep shade and history of the place. But its cross section seems to be a view into some sort of cosmic vortex. This tree has seen a lot in its hundred plus years, I imagine.
I realized that the rain had started up again an it was time to head home, full of gratitude and perspective to make some Albondigas soup for dinner.
Yesterday Auntie Bridgett and I went for a long walk. We enjoyed the dogs and trees at Laurelhurst Park, and the pretty houses of the Laurelhurst neighborhood. We wandered for quite a ways before we decided to turn back towards home.
When we did, I realized that we were very close to The Lone Fir Cemetery and that it had been a long time since we visited the folks there. So we went in.
As you already know, I love the peace and perspective of this old cemetery. We saw familiar headstones; heroic pioneers and shady ladies, revered doctors and just plain folks. And, as so often happens, something new caught our eye. Mr. Frank Dekum.
We know the name, because a big stone and brick building built by and named for him is on the corner of 3rd and Washington and we pass it every time we go downtown. Mr. Dekum came to Portland in 1853 with his family and started a very successful fruit business. He was also a candy maker, so obviously, a lover of good things.
When he had made his fortune in fruit and candy, he started investing in real estate development. He was involved in every building that went up on Washington Street between First and Third. He was on the Boards of banks and water companies, helping bring railroads and fresh drinking water to the city.
When the city was hit by a financial panic in 1893, property investments crashed and Mr. Dekum was badly impacted. He died the next year with only a fraction of his fortune intact. He is buried in our dear Lone Fir along with his eight children, so I can visit the whole family whenever I want.
For such a big city, Portland has a large animal population.
We see this when the ‘dog parade’ heads from the neighborhoods to Laurelhurst Park for their evening walk. Cats greet us from sunny porches as we pass, and chickens talk amongst themselves when we go by Sunnyside School.
The squirrels, of course, have the best commutes ever, up trees and across power lines, chittering at everyone who will listen, but freezing on tree trunks to become invisible.
But by far the most vocal and numerous animals are the crows. Unlike their more reclusive cousins the ravens, crows thrive in close proximity with humans, and some even enjoy our company. And it’s not just people in general; studies show that crows remember certain humans, reacting positively to those who feed them and negatively to those they see as a threat.
There is a lady who walks every day in Lone Fir Cemetery, bringing a large bag of dry cat food, just to feed the crows. She loves their attentions, and they love her, too! She is like the crow’s queen.
The art in Portland reflects this affection (some might even say a fixation) with crows. This painting greeted us last week at The Artbar downtown.
And Laurelhurst hosts a fair few of the feathered fellows, as well.
I like having all these living critters in the neighborhood. Since I have fewer small people to talk with, crows and cats can be good conversation. Also, learning how critters get by and help the area (eating all that fallen fruit, for example) lets me see the neighborhood as an ecosystem rather than just a bunch of houses.
People say that if you can laugh at yourself, you will never cease to be amused. That being said, most people don’t expect to get laughs at a cemetery. But Lone Fir is different.
Yesterday, after visiting the graves of the Parrott family, we found this: A handmade Ouija Board, complete with the little pointer for reading the “messages”, all made out of typing paper with a ballpoint pen. There are some scratch-outs, but mostly, it was a good job, considering the people who made it were probably kids. Both pieces were laying right by the grave of Elizabeth and William Saturley, who died in the 1870s.
This find took a slightly darker turn when I learned that “Zozo”and “Pazuzu” are the names of spirits or ancient gods. The two have nothing in common except for both being mentioned in the 1972 movie “The Exorcist” (which scared me senseless in high school). I wonder if the Saturleys were relatives of the kids, or chosen at random.
And speaking of random, we ran into this stone that says, in neat lettering, “Random Person.”. We can’t figure out if it was made as charity for an unknown person in an unmarked grave, or for someone with a sense of humor who wanted to remain anonymous.
Dale Jones and his wife Helen, who died in the 1990s, had several stones marking their graves. One, a highly polished bench, revealed their busy lives and senses of humor. “This wasn’t in my schedule book,” says a bench by Dale’s grave.
Like I have said before, cemeteries give perspective. It’s nice to know that even when facing our own ends, we can have this perspective and lighten everyone’s load a bit.
I hope this post was more funny than spooky. People are weird.
You and I have talked about Mr. John Steinbeck, how he was born in Salinas, lived a long and busy life, and then died, and is buried in the Garden of Memories. Knowing that there was a big part of the world that happened before us, and will be a long time after us, lets us see ourselves as a piece of the world.
This month at Barbara Kadden’s funeral, Death was right there with us, by her grave under the bright maple trees. It wasn’t dressed in a long black cloak, but silently standing up from its usual crouch in the dark corners of our minds, letting us see it clearly for a few hours.
And now it is Halloween, and pretend-Death is all around. Bony hands reach up from make believe graves in flower beds and grim reapers swing on sunny porches. They seem to say “See? It’s really okay. It’s all in fun.”
But the peaceful dead at Lone Fir, Home of Peace, Garden of Memories, and River View Cemeteries disagree. “Not in fun,” they say. “We really lived. Some of us for only a few months, some for over a hundred years, and then we died. Those we loved mourned us. It is not fun, but what is.”
I think people love Halloween because it lets us toy with Death. The Great Mystery becomes a costume to wear or a movie to watch, to make it small enough so it can be thought about safely. It is a way of thinking about the unthinkable.
This afternoon Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk to the Lone Fir Cemetery. We got sad news earlier this week, that the wonderful “Tour of Untimely Departures”, a rare night time, storied tour through our lovely pioneer cemetery, would not be held this year. It takes too much staff and too many resources. I am so glad we went last year or we would have missed it forever!
So we went to say hello to the dead people during the daytime. It was before dinner, and the sun was low, but still bright. I showed Auntie Bridgett where the sweet chestnut tree is, and while we were admiring the squirrels’ good work at cleaning out every single prickly shell, an elderly oriental man came by, gathering the horse chestnuts. He said they are good boiled or cooked over the grill, but I am still not convinced.
We wandered around, appreciating the stories the headstones tell. The art and symbols, some over 100 years old, are beautiful even in decay. Weeping willows show peaceful rest, a drape over a stone urn shows separation between the living and the dead. Clasped hands mean a final farewell.
There was a stone showing a couple, Doll and Elton Mack Phillips, with a charming line drawing of them between their names, with their “sunrise” and “sunset” dates. I would have liked to have known them, I think. They look like fun.
We saw a long narrow stone that had been there so long the letters were perfectly filled in with moss, but no dates or details. Just “Smallbone”. That will take some researching.
We saw the headstone of Victor Hugo O’Rourke, a cook in the 65th Regiment of the Coast Artillery Corps. He died in 1918. His name makes me think his mother was a French Literature teacher and his father an Irishman. But my imagination sometimes runs away with me.
And then this bronze marker caught our eye because it was so detailed and crowded with symbols. Mr. William Scott died in 1901 at the age of 46. According to his bronze marker, he was a Knight Templar. But the Knights Templar went inactive after most of them were massacred by Pope Clement V in 1312. On the other side of the marker was a large anchor and rope with a shield and the letters. A.O.U.W., which stand for The Ancient Order of United Workmen, a branch of the Masonic Organization. This man obviously had a full life and a community that must have mourned his passing.
As always, we came away from Lone Fir rested and with a sense of perspective that sometimes gets lost while staring at screens in research or learning to use new equipment. Knowing that we all will go someday allows us to see each day as a gift rather than a chore.