Thursday, May 14, 2009

Meet: Cheryl Palmer, "Graveyard Rabbit of South Alameda County"

The thirtieth in a series
featuring a member of
The Graveyard Rabbit Association


I had only been blogging for a month or two when the founder of The Graveyard Rabbits, Terry Thornton, asked if I would be interested in becoming a Rabbit. I felt so honored that someone thought enough of my blog to ask me if I would be interested in having another, about cemeteries! Those of us involved in genealogy and family history are fully aware that cemeteries tend to come along with the territory. But what did I really know about cemeteries? This is the extent of my knowledge up to that point.

At a whopping four years old, I had first contact with a cemetery. Well, maybe not contact, more like the “visions” of a cemetery. We lived directly across the street from a cemetery. A two-lane road separated the dwellings and the headstones. My four-year-old mind told me, “I am glad it is a large road! The cemetery is way over there.” I was in kindergarten at the time and just walked around the corner to school. I remember, as I walked to school each day, thinking, “I can’t look at where those dead people are across the street.” A year or so ago I was back at this place where I once lived. That road is so narrow! Amazing how big is seemed when I was four!

By the time I was in the third grade we moved to a new community. I noticed immediately that there was, a few miles down the main street, another cemetery! We drove past it many times, on the way shopping, to my grandparent’s house, etc. We lived in this area the rest of my school days and the cemetery never went away. Even though I hated it, I had to look at it every time we drove by, but I don’t really know why.

As years progressed, so did the weeds and grub in this particular cemetery. This cemetery was old, and had tall monuments, something I didn’t remember seeing at the first cemetery I lived across the street from. This place became spookier, as time went on. The headstones were over grown with weeds; trash and empty alcohol containers lay around everywhere. It turned into the biggest dump! I was hearing at this time that teens were having wild parties in the cemetery, drinking beer, leaving trash and vandalizing headstones. Eventually, an iron fence was erected to keep the hoodlums away.

As my sisters and I grew up, we never attended funerals or visited cemeteries. I believe my mother thought she was protecting us. After graduating from high school was the first time I attended a funeral service and cemetery. The service was for a girl I went to school with, she had been murdered. I had a very difficult time with the whole situation for years, the useless murder and cemetery where she lay was engraved in my mind.

My emotions and feelings regarding cemeteries changed considerably when I visited a very small cemetery in the mountains. My husband’s family is memorialized in this cemetery, and it is not close to where we live. Any time we are in the area, of course, my husband wants to go to the grave site. We are in the area at least once a year, and the visits started growing on me. I sometimes feel as if I am obsessed with this cemetery! I get my thrill pulling weeds, taking pictures and checking out the headstones. I am not sure who looks forward to going to this cemetery more, my husband or myself. Eventually, I was drawn to the Historical Building in town, where I could learn about the people buried in the cemetery, along with the importance of their contributions to the town.

From that point on I realized cemeteries and memorials really have meaning and history behind them. Attending cemeteries, as I do now for my genealogy and family history, has become one of my favorite things to do. Who would have thought years ago that I would ever look forward to being in a cemetery?

So, when I was asked to be a Graveyard Rabbit, how could I say no? It was time to learn more about cemeteries and share what I learn!


Sheri Fenley said...

Great story Cheryl! Thanks for being one of the best Rabbits around!

Terry Thornton said...

Cheryl, Thanks for being a Graveyard Rabbit! And thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the influences of cemeteries on your life.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi

Cheryl Palmer said...

Thank you both for the very kind compliments!