A Walk Through the Cemetery

While the older two were away at their first day of school, I was out with Rerun in the middle of a cemetery, trying to find a grave.

Let me back up and explain.

Tuesday was my Obachan’s birthday.  For a woman of her age, life experience, and the fact that she has been widowed for over 15 years, she is in very good health (aside from the hearing aids and occasional forgetfulness, but that’s nothing more serious than old age, it seems).  She lives in a retirement community near my parents and right in a major shopping area.  If you ever wonder where I got my shopping genes from, they came from Obachan.  For her birthday, I took her out for Japanese food at one of my favorite restaurants, along with Ane (who devoured a plate of gyoza) and Auntie (who devoured a plate of sushi after scraping off all the wasabi).

I also promised her that I would take her to the cemetery.  This is a semi-regular thing with us.  For years now, I have been the person who regularly takes her to my Ojiichan’s niche in the columbarium at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle.  So, Wednesday morning, after I got the older two off to school on the buses, I picked Obachan up and we drove to the cemetery.

Some people find cemeteries and graveyards creepy – I find them fascinating.  There is so much to see in a cemetery, especially one as old as Evergreen Washelli.  Way back before World War II, it was one of the only cemeteries in Seattle that would allow Japanese people to be buried there.  There is an old Japanese section to the park as whole, but many Japanese Americans are buried all over the cemetery now, including my grandfather, his mother, and his brother.  All three of them are in the columbarium, and whenever Obachan and I go, we always prepare two vases of flowers – one for my Ojiichan, and one for my great-grandmother and great-uncle (who are together in the same niche – my great-uncle never married and my great-grandfather is not there because he is buried in Osaka.  Long story).

Anyway, Obachan had contacted her sister-in-law (my Ojiichan’s sister) a while ago and learned that her husband had passed away shortly before Rerun was born.  Communication among these stubborn old Nisei has never been good, so we learned a full year after the fact (and well after Christmas cards had been exchanged and nothing had been said) that my great-uncle had died.  Obachan decided that she wanted to find his grave, so she called up my great-aunt and got some rough directions.

I say “rough” directions because although we found the general area my great-aunt had pointed us to, neither Obachan or I could find his grave.  And I had Rerun with me, in a stroller, pretty much off-roading on people’s graves.  It was a strange feeling.  Fortunately, there was no one else around except for some construction workers who were doing some repairs to a walkway.

Finally, we walked back to the main entrance of the park and asked for help.  We had a location in five minutes, along with a short list of everyone buried within 5 feet of him, which was extremely helpful.  Between the map, the grid, and the list of names, I finally found the gravesite.  Obachan worried about trying to find it again later, but I said, “It’s okay, Obachan – I’m here, I’ll remember.”

Since we were out and about in the cemetery – which is the largest in Seattle and exists on both sides of Aurora Avenue, one of the major arterials of the city – and we now had a map, I decided that we should see the Doughboy Statue and the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery.  The Doughboy Statue, which was cast in 1928 and depicts a World War I-era soldier, was moved to the cemetery in 1998 from Seattle Center’s Memorial Stadium.  It’s really quite impressive, and it adds a lot to the feel of the veterans’ cemetery.  The Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery has a large Chimes Tower, plus guns and cannons.  The headstones there are all of white marble, aside from some ground markers, and depending on the era that the marble was carved, they have different designs.  Spanish-American War veterans’ headstones are completely done in relief, while only the crosses or Stars of David are done in relief on WWI-era headstones and the names are etched.  Everything is etched for WWII-era veterans.  It was humbling and awe-inspiring.

We also passed the Meany Memorial Pool and the Judge Burke Memorial near the front entrance, but on our way back to the car, we walked through one of the saddest parts of the cemetery.  On the map, it is called “Babyland.”  It is the resting place of children – stillborn, infants, and toddlers.  Most markers listed a single date or a single year.  Many simply said “Baby Boy” or “Baby Girl” with a surname.  The oldest child I saw buried there was a three year old.  Most of the children there had died in the 1940’s, when infant mortality was more common, but no less tragic.  On the outskirts of Babyland, there were infants who had died in the early 1970’s.  As Obachan, who had an older half-sister die at a year old, Rerun and I walked through the graveyard of buried hopes and dreams, I was incredibly grateful for the advances in modern medicine that have allowed more children to survive illnesses, SIDS, and in-utero distress, but broken-hearted for all the parents who had to leave a little one there.  And when we got back to the car, I hugged Rerun very tightly for a minute.

Later, at lunch, Obachan and I were watching Rerun happily stuff fries into his mouth when she mentioned her other brother-in-law’s sister, who passed away suddenly around Easter earlier this year.  I said, “Why didn’t you think of that when we were at the cemetery?  We could have asked where she was buried.”

Obachan shrugged.  “Maybe next time.  One dead relative at a time.”

One Response to “A Walk Through the Cemetery”

  1. Nana
    September 2nd, 2011 06:53

    What a touching account, with an upbeat one-liner from a dear one.