Sagebrush hid toppled tombstones scattered between pines in the Markleeville Cemetery. It had no road, no worn path of mourners. I discovered it by accident when I was seven, searching a hillside for glittering rocks with crystals. I followed a cow trail up the hillside, thrusting pretties into my jeans pockets.
At the top of the hill I could see the entire town. A cluster of houses, a store and a bar, almost a ghost town kept alive by an active courthouse and tourists who skied and camped.
A barbed wire fence marked its edge. I could see marble blocks so I crawled beneath wires. Old grave markers. Many were children and I wondered why they died. Inscriptions were from the mining heyday: 1860s-1880s. By the time I left Markleeville at age 18, I knew every stone, inscription and unmarked hallow. I discovered how to read history among the dead.
Linking up with Lisa Reiter at Sharing the Story for Bite Size Memoir.
What a beautiful piece Charli. It takes me right there amidst waving grasses rather than the waxy ivy that encroaches on the old, ‘retired’ graveyard near me.
Here I can spot the likely measles or smallpox epidemics where near whole families of children are buried in the same few months or members from all generations of a family. For such sadness, there’s an incredible peace that seems to say to me ‘shhh, shhh, it’s over now..” as anyone who remained to live with the loss, is now also at peace.
I love the way your love of history is evident in all of your writing. It speaks to the comfort you have with having found your creative home.
That’s a beautiful way to write about the peace also found among the graves. I’d like to see your ivy-covered ones, too! Thanks for the bites that help me explore these historical roots.
Thanks for a beautiful memoir. I enjoy old graveyards too. It’s like when you enter the spirits of those past ask you to stay and chat awhile as you walk by. Last year I found my name on a granite stone laid flat on the ground with my name inscribed on it. He was a Civil War veteran. I remember asking myself then if he could have been anything like me. You learn a lot from a walk through old graveyards.
I feel that way, too. I used to feel as though I could talk to those spirits on those lonely days living in a remote mountain town. I’ve found Civil War veterans out west, too and have wondered about their path, what they lost and left behind. I’ve not yet found my own name though! That would be worthy of contemplation. Thanks for commenting!
This is lovely, Charli, I can really sense the little girl’s excitement at this unexpected discovery and then the thought of how those graves the accompanied you into adulthood and you made them your own. A lovely insight into your lifelong fascination with history and meticulous research.
I often go to the village of Eyam – and, who knows, I might walk there tomorrow – famous for having sealed itself off when hit by the plague, I bet you’d find lots to interest you there.
I’m fully exposed now. The girl who haunted cemeteries was not dead, just me digging into the past. Yes, being surrounded by history (think Bodie, CA but in the mountains and with 100 residents) led me down this path. Yet now I know that history wasn’t so old and I’d marvel to walk among something like Eyam. What a story that town must have!
What a lovely memory, Charli, and beautifully told. I love the image of the little you thrusting pretties into your jeans pockets.
And fully grown I still do that, Norah! 🙂
How wonderful to maintain the essence and joy of childhood!
That’s so true! 🙂
I love that you were looking for “glittering rocks with crystals” which I definitely would have done if there was such a thing where I lived. Instead I was bringing home jars filled with creek water and guppies. I thought it was fascinating that they started out like a fish and then became little frogs.
I love the way you write, you take me there through your words. I look forward to when you have a book because I really want to read it. =)
Morgan, we would have had so much fun! There weren’t many kids growing up there and the hills and creek were my back yard. I wish I still had some of those pretties. I remember it being full of them on that hillside! Funny story–my kids grew up at my feet as I looked for rocks and they knew “crystals” were the treasure. They’d hand me pieces of quartz asking if it was a crystal. No, not that one. Then one day my eldest handed me an 8-inch long, huge quartz crystal! Yup! That’s one! Now she’s a geologist (among many other things). Thank you, I appreciate that you like the experience of my words! I need that this week as I finish that first book! Fingers crossed (or is that pencils?).
What a beautifully evocative piece this is Charli. The scene you set of you as a girl exploring your surroundings, ‘thrusting pretties into your jeans pockets’ brings back so many memories of my days spent exploring, hunting for ‘treasures’ and on the look out for new discoveries. Old graveyards are a treasure trove of history with every inscription, no matter how short, telling the unique story of each person lying there, if only we take the time to fill in the gaps. I can see that your love of ancestry and telling the stories of those who went before you started young 🙂
Yes, I still love treasure hunts–the pretties and the stories! I bet you have some great graveyards in your area. I always seek one out when I move someplace new or visit because it helps me feel more connected to the place. Or gets me curious about those gaps!
Ahh…I can see you now! We do Charli, hubby and I love wondering around old churches and their graveyards. This might sound strange, but one of the first things hubby did after we met was to take me to the graveyard where his maternal parents are buried so that he could tell me some family history. I thought that was so romantic 😉
That’s awesome, Sherri! I think it’s romantic, too. For our 25th wedding anniversary, the Hub took me to find a family graveyard south of here where I’m related to everyone in the ground (my McCandless ancestors). He even spotted the ruins of the original homestead and helped me get out to it through brush and brambles. It was the best way to celebrate our marriage, doing that together. 🙂
Absolutely wonderful…our hubs are on the same wavelength! What an amazing day that must have been for you and a fantastic silver wedding anniversary. I’ve actually got goosebumps but for all the right reasons 😀
[…] should belong to, but the truth is I don’t want to quit. For me, it’s about history and discovery. Reading a cemetery is like reading an historical record of a family or […]