Almanac Life: A Cheery Cemetery Story

 

 

In her eternally breezy way Claire says, ‘The cemetery’s such an interesting place to go.’

She doesn’t know what’s about to happen and I feel a pocket-sized spasm of panic.

I veer into the left lane so we can go to the first destination of our Mystery Day. Feeling happy with my insightful planning, I’m taking us to the West Terrace cemetery, and Mystery Day works best when there’s an intact sense of mystery, which of course, is now entirely vanished given my wife’s casual, prophetic remark about her continuing curiosity surrounding graveyards.

I’ve never been to this cemetery and knowing Claire’s interest in the stories of everyday people we select a self-guided walking tour that points us toward headstones offering tragic and triumphant narratives.

I open the website on my phone and off we stroll.

How many of us are at our very best on Saturdays, just before lunch? Our afternoon stretches out with the enthralling promise of carefree hours as we make our way through the city and punctuate the day with conversations that leap joyously between our past, present, and future.

The cemetery sprawls in every direction so it truly is a necropolis. Pleasingly, we’re alone. A bustling memorial park serves nobody well.

 

 

 

 

The digital map directs us to Road 2 Path 10 Site 26 West. It’s a modest grave for Maria Gandy. The plaque is informative. Born in Hampshire she became known to Colonel William Light. Claire and I then recall Year 12 Australian History at Kapunda High.

I’ve a vague notion. ‘Didn’t he spend time in prison? Remember Mr. Krips telling us about him?’

Claire nods as the rain begins. Has there ever been a film scene in a cemetery or a funeral and it doesn’t rain? ‘No, it wasn’t Colonel Light. It was someone else. Light surveyed the city. You’re thinking of the guy who had the idea for the colony of South Australia.’

This is why Claire achieved a perfect 100 in matric Australian History, and I didn’t.

I now have a belated flash. ‘That’s right. Wakefield. Edward Gibbon Wakefield.’

Maria Gandy accompanied Colonel Light to Adelaide, became his housekeeper and carer and, according to the day’s idle talk, much more than this. After Light’s death she married his physician George Mayo and had four children with him before tuberculosis claimed her. She was thirty-six.

There we were beneath the swirling July rain nattering about South Australia’s colonial past and our high school days right in the heart of our warm and incasing present. Cemeteries also quietly guide our gratitude and sharpen our sense of the fragile now. There were narratives all around, but mostly I thought of ours.

I’ve nearly finished reading Be Mine, the final release in my favourite series, the Frank Bascombe novels by Richard Ford. The storyteller takes his dying son on a sad, harrowing, and strangely humorous road trip to Mt. Rushmore and mindful of life’s delicacy, more than once mentions how, ‘there is no was, there is only is.’

 

*

 

Scurrying back through the drizzle to the car Claire suddenly announces, ‘Look.’ She then gives a happy sigh. We stop.

On top of a grey headstone is Claire’s favourite bird, a magpie. From its mouth hangs a clump of twiggy, leafy matter. He’s proud to show us his familial efforts. He’s building a nest.

And so, in this vast acreage dedicated to the city’s dead we see a sign of eager, irrepressible life and nature’s renewal. Holding hands, we walk on, and the rain slows.

 

 

 

Read more from Mickey Randall HERE

 

 

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About Mickey Randall

No, instead I get out my Volleys, each with the inescapable hole, just by the little toe. What if someone bought a pair of Volleys and they didn’t develop these holes? The absence of holes would itself make a psychological hole.

Comments

  1. Rick Kane says

    Just lovely MR, and I do love Claire and your Mystery Days adventures. Thank you for allowing us to participate. Cemetaries are strange and wonderous places, they stare right in our face and say we will meet you someday. As for the juxtaposition of the magpie activity and the location, a line from my favourite Thomas Hardy poem did enter my mind. That I could think there trembled through / His happy good-night air / Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew / And I was unaware.

  2. Thanks Rick. Like many youth I saw cemeteries as dull and only about death and grief. Now, I can see how they’re, among many things, places with life and narratives and even humour.

    Cheers also for ‘The Darkling Thrush’ which is a great, atmospheric poem. How good is this description too- His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.

    Yep, magpies and cemeteries, add them to my list!

  3. roger lowrey says

    Channelling my best Richie Benaud, “fascinating places, cemeteries.” Arguably our finest and most definitive forms of primary source history. Don’t worry mate, Claire can probably fill this one out for you a bit.

    Secondly, with respect to the wet weather observation, my dear old late mum was fond of saying “they’re tears from heaven darling, tears from heaven.”

    But thirdly Mickey, many thanks for being the conduit this morning that lead me back to “To His Coy Mistress”, an old favourite Andrew Marvell poem of mine…

    “The grave’s a fine and private place,
    But none, I think, do there embrace.”

    And five lines later he even contemplates your magpie!

    “Now let us sport us while we may,
    And now, like amorous birds of prey,”

    Just love that ultra discreet 17th Century “let us sport us” reference for shagging but with the poet’s repetition of the word “now” in the next line emphasising the immediacy and fiery insistence of his passion for his subject. His “amorous birds of prey” reference underlines the urgency of his vigorous intentions.

    One of the very best poems of its time without a doubt. I’ve left it out on the dining room table to remind me to have another look at it tomorrow.

    RDL

  4. RDL- what a treat to revisit this poem. I first came across it as a prescribed text when teaching GCSE English in Hertfordshire. I recall everybody in the class getting a bit Benny Hill over the ‘vegetable love’ metaphor.

    It’s a fantastic text, especially when compared with the truly dreadful series of newspaper articles that were imposed upon one cohort. A couple of months prior to May’s exam the board would share the ‘pre-release’ material that’d be examined in the Language exam, and these were generally arranged by theme. One year’s theme and I’m sure it was chosen to engage the country’s youth was ‘Toll Roads of the Midlands’

    And sorry, Roger, it wasn’t as literary or exciting as it sounds. It was one of a number of telling points when I knew I’d be thrilled to return to Australia and happily see the arse-end of British education.

    Thanks for that.

  5. “A bustling memorial park serves nobody well”……a very funny line! And I couldn’t help but wonder…what did you get for Australian History? I’m keen to know! Great read Mickey.

  6. I’ve just peeked at the yellowing parchment and my matric Australian History result was only 21 points shy of yours (seasonally adjusted). Thanks for the kind response, Someone.

  7. Ouch….that must have hurt, Mickey.

  8. West Terrace …… I dragged my 12 year old daughter around Adelaide cemeteries in 2012 exploring family history. Spent a few good hours in West Terrace and found some gems. We still have a chuckle about our shared cemetery experiences. She’s exploring Greece at the moment. Maybe there’s a connection ….

  9. I thought West Terrace was a rich and compelling place and I’m keen to return as we only had about an hour on that day. Yes, could be toasty atop the Acropolis this European summer! I’ll bet she’s having a great time and as we do, feels enlivened visiting and investigating all those death-centric landmarks like the Tower of London, the Coliseum, the catacombs in Paris etc. Thanks Hock.

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