My Friends at the Graveyard

When I was a kid and we went to Massachusetts every weekend, my parents would sometimes drop my brother and me off at a graveyard next door to the grocery, so we could run about while they provisioned the household.  Thus began my lifelong fondness for graveyards.
Morbid?  Not really.  I’m a story junkie, and every gravestone hints at a story.  Some of them tell whole chapters, others are, um, story prompts.  My favorite tombstone ever was that of Miss Lucinda Laird, only daughter of Mr. Samuel Laird, buried in New Marlborough, Massachusetts (in a graveyard that makes a brief appearance at the end of the movie of Alice’s Restaurant).  She died young, Miss Lucinda–in her late teens.  And the stone cutter, proving that “measure twice, cut once,” or “sketch it out before hand, idiot,” are very important guidelines, mis-spelled her name as “Lucinda Lard.”  He got her father’s last name right, and apparently someone pointed out the bobble, because on the tombstone someone chiseled in a caret between the A and R, pointing to a small chiseled I.  Poor Lucinda, going down the long halls of eternity trailing a typo.
I suppose the typo is comical, but I’ve never thought of it that way.  I have a picture in my mind of Lucinda, only daughter (given the time period I’m betting that there were other children who didn’t survive, and probably brothers as well) of Mr. Samuel.  The Lucinda in my mind is slender and slight, with dark hair and a serious expression–life was fairly serious in rural Massachusetts in 1817.  She had dreams and plans, but likely they were the sort we’d consider rather small: a home of her own, a family, health, a measure of comfort.  She died unwed, but I like to think she was courted by a local boy.  Given the time and place it’s likely she was devout, well behaved, trained in the crafts and skills of a woman in a farming community.  I don’t know why, but I see her dying of a lingering illness–the old standby, consumption, perhaps–and the tombstone lets us know she was regarded by friends and family  as an exemplar of a Christian life well lived.  She’s not tragic, Lucinda, but I’ve always wanted to do something nice for her: buy her a dress-length of beautiful fabric, or some ribbons, or take over her chores for a day.  Because to the stonecutter she didn’t matter enough to get her name right–but someone cared enough to make a stink and get that correction made.
It’s tempting to give her 21st century character markers: she was feisty, she was a tomboy, she wanted to grow up to be a lawyer or a singer or dragonslayer. But what if she was a typical girl by the standards of her time?  Not Laura Ingalls or Jo March, but Mary Ingalls or Meg March?  Isn’t she worth a story of her own?
I could write a story about Lucinda Laird, all because of that typo.  Perhaps I will.

About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


My Friends at the Graveyard — 4 Comments

  1. I think the nicest thing you could do for Lucinda would be to write her story.

    I too grew up fascinated by Massachusetts graveyards. My formative years were passed in a small town near Plymouth called Whitman which had a section with very fine Civil War tombstones. I loved to wander through them and wonder (like you, it seems) what had happened to them.

    The cemetery was opposite the high school and often, stuck in a boring class (at that time they were ALL boring) I would stare out a window, daydreaming, wishing myself – out there.

  2. Those old graveyards that are still there but not in use anymore… I knew a lovely one in Cambridge. I took lots of photos of the headstones.

  3. You probably know that there are a stupendous number of blogs and web pages run by cemetery fans. The one I ran across the other day is
    If I were writing about Lucinda, I might focus on that typo. How annoying, to have an incorrect grave marker! Why, it’s enough to raise the dead…

  4. In the cemetery in Delaware, Ohio, the Vergon gravestone is something special. It’s huge (taller than I am) and wider than it is tall. It’s bas relief, a huge chestnut tree with individual leaves and small animals on it (most of the squirrels beheaded by now, alas.) Vergon wanted to be buried under the chestnut tree back in France — it was the best his family could do, and his descendants joined him!

    I did a post on it long ago, on my Live Journal, with links.

    I hope we all come up with interesting gravestones. Some English historian in future centuries will say: “Yes, and they were all Book View Cafe members, too….”