Mr. Frank Dekum

Dear Liza,

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Mr. Dekum as he was

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.

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Auntie Bridgett with Mr. 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.

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His tallest namesake

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.

Gone, as they say, but not forgotten.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

City Crows

Dear Liza,

For such a big city, Portland has a large animal population.

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Bubbler Crow

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.

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Queen of the Crows?

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.

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Crow in the Artbar

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.

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Laurelhurst Crow

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.

Love, Grandma Judy

Curiosities at the Cemetery

Dear Liza,

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Handmade Ouija board and pointer

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.

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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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

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Bench at the graves of Dale and Helen Jones

Real and Make Believe

Dear Liza,

Death gives us perspective.

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Make Believe

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.” IMG_0129.jpg

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.

And I’m okay with that.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Visiting the Dead People

Dear Liza,

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Lone Fir Cemetery in the afternoon light

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.

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Giant spreading Chestnut tree

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. img_0913.jpg

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.img_0925.jpg

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.img_0926.jpg

 

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

More Mosaics

Dear Liza,

As I walk around Portland, I see more beautiful mosaics. Maybe because the materials can be recycled things like broken dishes and tiles, or even bits of machinery, mosaics are a popular medium for public art. Also, these materials are strong enough to last outside, winter and summer, even through Portland’s wet and dry cycles.

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At The Children’s Museum

Some of them are group projects, like those outside the Buckman School or inside the Sunnyside School. These have an informal feeling and are very friendly. Looking at them, you can almost hear the kids and adults chatting and joking as they put the tiles in and get their hands goopy with grout.

At The Grotto

Other mosaics are extremely complex and delicate, showing real artistry in their design and execution. These beautiful works of art, out for everyone to enjoy, need to be respected and protected.

I give major credit to many of the local businesses and organizations for sponsoring the artists of these wonderful works. They make Portland not just weird, as the bumper sticker says, but more handmade, more personal, and more beautiful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Recently repaired headstone at Lone Fir

Good things happening at Lone Fir

Dear Liza,

Yes, you remember correctly, Lone Fir is out local cemetery. So what good things could be happening there?

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Vandalized Headstone

Well, to start with, a unique headstone that had been vandalized has been repaired. Paul G. Lind, a young man who died in 2005, was a computer programmer and Scrabble fanatic. His family and friends remembered him by creating a beautifully unique headstone, decorated as if it were a Scrabble board, with words to describe him. By the time I saw the headstone last year, however, all the lovely tiles had been chipped off and stolen away by vandals. But now, it has been repaired and looks even better than the original.

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Repaired Scrabble Headstone

I stopped to chat with a happy young couple standing by one of the arbors, surrounded by Mylar helium balloons of animals…raccoons, a tyrannosaurus, a hedgehog, and the like. I had to ask, “What’s up?”

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Proposal with woodland creatures

“She proposed!” The young man shouted, holding up his left hand with a lovely ring.

His bride -to-be explained. “He always said his perfect wedding would be in the forest with just the animals around, and no people. But I like these people,” she gestured to all the headstones. “They don’t tell you what to do.” I am guessing they may return to celebrate their wedding…or maybe choose a more formal cemetery, like River View, across the Willamette.

The last new headstone I visited memorialized Andrew Brian Loomis, who was a local musician. He played drums with a band called The Dead Moon for 28 years, dying at the age of 54 of cancer. His stone is carved with his name and dates, and he is remembered as a cherished son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend, and the motto, “Life is good ‘sept the parts that suck.” The name of a local music and dance club, Dante’s, is included.IMG_9500.jpg

The grave has been recently decorated with crow feathers, a wine bottle, a ceramic dog, Mardi Gras beads, and other items that seem to tell of a life lived for music and fun. I am happy to know that his friends and loved ones, and even fans, still celebrate him.

And that’s what’s happening with the dead people!

Love,

Grandma Judy