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5 Generations Together In One Cemetery, A Legacy Video

Posted by lovinglegacyvideo on July, 31, 2018

This video is from when I recently had the beautiful opportunity and experience of going with my father and son to visit the cemetery where my grandparents and great grandparents are buried. (His short story about the trip is below) The last time I had been there was in 1999 after my grandfather’s death which was long before I had a child of my own. We were in Boston visiting my father, and made the long drive to New Jersey, specifically to visit the cemetery as my dad is approaching 80 and his mobility is becoming far more limited. It was clear that if this was ever going to happen, it needed to be now when it was still possible. I made this short video to celebrate the trip. It’s amazing to me to know my son will be able to relive this moment decades from now. And as my father plans to be cremated when he dies, we know there will not be such a specific place to visit him.

5 Generations Together At The Cemetery – Loving Legacy Video from Loving Legacy Video on Vimeo.

Cemetery By Stan Davis (my dad)

Five generations,
those living and those not,
together in the cemetery.

The call came from my younger son, Len, in Seattle. “When I come to visit you next month in late June, lets go down to the New Jersey cemetery and visit grandma’s and grandpa’s graves; and also your grandparents’. I know it’s almost five hours each way but I’ll drive the whole trip. Maybe we’ll overnight down there.”

“Wow! Sounds like a great idea, I’ll get back to you.” My wife, Bobbi, agreed.

“We’ll take Zuli with us,” Len’s seven years old son. “That will make five generations in our family line. I want him to understand about that.”

Still, I felt the need to think of the trip somewhat differently. My parents died in 1999 and 2004, and I hadn’t visited their gravesites since their funerals. It’s an even longer time regarding my own Bubba and Zaydeh. My mother’s parents died in 1952 and 1956 and are buried in the same cemetery.

I hadn’t visited there because of the distance. I loved them all very much and we had very good relationships. If they were interred near where I live, I would probably visit them quarterly. But 15 and 19 years was too long a time, any way you cut it. Also, I’m going on 79 and each year, because of my health, I’m even less likely to make the trip. “Now is the time and this is the perfect opportunity,” I thought.

So, a few days after Len and Zuli arrived in Boston, we drove down to the cemetery in Paramus, NJ, talking the entire way. The place advertised itself, according to its entry sign, as “Paramus, Only 10 minutes from Manhattan” off the George Washington Bridge. That may have been true when my parents bought in, but it was surely no longer the case. I always thought of Paramus in negative terms, industrialized and run down. It turned out to be a bedroom community with strip malls and plenty of traffic.

Our iPhone maps app got us there and fortunately I had kept the map with directions to the sites within the cemetery. The gates were opened and unattended, the sign said “closes at 5:30PM.” It was almost 4:00PM.
There were two minibuses in front of an office, all empty and locked. Once inside the grounds, the scene changed to both country quiet and cityscape packed, filled with tombstones standing tightly for as far as the eyes could see.

We headed for Block 10, Section 3, Plot 54, Graves 1 & 2. Something seemed off kilter. Because my grandparents were buried in a plot for two, future members could not be buried with them. To remedy this short sight, I guess, my father bought a plot for eight 1/10th mile away, with a simple granite tombstone that said only “Davis”. My parents occupied the first two spots, covered with foot high bush and each indicated with small flat stone markers. The other six spots remained empty, just grass:
___
||||
||||
These other six spots may never be used. This gave the site a skewed feeling that threw off my perception of a settled resting place. But I quickly pushed it out of my mind and greeted my parents.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I thought it a bit weird to be saying “Hi Mom, Hi Dad” to their presences. The other strange happening was that I was happy. I was so glad to be with them again, or at least with what was left of them. I didn’t cry, I smiled, sometimes inwardly, and some with an outright grin. There I was with them, body and mind, their bodies and my mind I guess. I wasn’t going to let this only opportunity pass by. I was going to go with the flow.

Len and Zuli backed off to give me some private time, and I started telling them how my life has gone since they left. How I have a good marriage and had a successful career. What a wonderful job they did as my parents. How much I loved them and how they would be proud of me. How I probably wouldn’t be coming back to see them again but they should be happy and know I carry them with me in my heart. As I spoke silently, I smiled more and more, ebullient and joyful. What an unexpected treat.

Following tradition, I placed a small stone on their granite slab, signifying that they had been visited, and Len and Zuli did the same. Zuli had three stuffed animals in his arms and he arranged them on the headstone, extending the row. He also tried to climb atop the headstone, and rather than thinking it was improper to do so, I knew my parents would have gotten a big kick out of it. I was hardly aware that Len, a professional videographer, filmed the scene.

Then we went on to my grandparents’ gravesites, Block 10, Section D, Line 4, Graves 29 & 30, in an abutting, filled-up cemetery with crowded granite slabs packed together like an army of soldiers marching as far as the eyes can see. We repeated the same things here, then Len and I started talking about them, how they came to America and what their lives had been like. There was no one in sight, everything was still, and we got lost in memories….

Until, that is, we realized it was just past 6:00PM and the cemetery was closed. We found our way to the gate we had entered by and, sure enough, the large padlock was hanging there. We were locked in!

We began laughing. “I don’t think we want to spend the night here,” “No, certainly not.” “This must happen all the time, let’s call the local police and ask them what to do.” They knew how to contact the groundskeeper who came within a few minutes and let us out. As we thanked him he said, “Sure,” and with a knowing smile, “Drive safely.” We went to the hotel a few miles away and planned the rest of our trip.

In 1950, my parents built a summer cottage on an acre they purchased in northern Westchester. The Town of Mohegan from the 1920s through the 1950s was a hot bed of radicals, socialists, and communists. On Forest Lane, our road, lived the president of the oxymoronic American Anarchist Party. On the corner was Zabar’s summer home, the founder of the still-famous Zabar’s Delicatessen in Manhattan. A few minutes away from us in Mohegan was Ben Gitlow, who received dubious semi-fame as a turncoat witness in the infamous McCarthy anti-communist hearings then taking place in Washington DC. It was a real hodgepodge in a tumultuous time. About two miles further west and on the Hudson River was Peekskill NY, then the northern home of the Ku Klux Klan.

What more logical person to invite to sing in Peekskill than Paul Robeson, the world-renowned opera singer. Robeson, a black man, had sung the lead role of the Moor, in Othello at the Met. An ardent Communist, he also sang in Moscow. This triggered the infamous Robeson riots, whose fires lit up the nighttime sky that we saw from our cottage.

Mohegan, a 59 minutes ride by train to Manhattan, was mainly a semi-rural summer community back then. When my father retired, they winterized the place and added a living room that I dubbed the ‘New York City room’ because they filled it with furniture from their 4-room apartment and then rarely used it. By the time my parents sold their Mohegan home in the late 1990s, and moved into senior living a mile from my home in Brookline MA, it was a year-round place. We decided to take the short detour and visit the old homestead. Len knew it well from many visits there.

I looked it up on Google maps and video, so I knew a different house was there now. We drove up, parked, and I rang the doorbell. A man around 60 opened the door. “Hello. Can I help you?” “I grew up in this house. I used to live here.” “Are you a Davis?” “Yes. You must have bought it from my parents.” “Indeed we did.” That was all that was needed, the spark that started an hour and a half visit.

Al and his wife Lisa took Len, Zuli and me on a detailed tour. We talked about the grounds. How they had to cut down many of the trees that were big, old and dangerous because they were too close to the house. My father and I planted one of those as a sapling our first summer there. How they cleared bush and expanded the backyard. How he was a carpenter and contractor, so he did all the building additions himself. He added a second floor, a garage, a screened porch, and reshuffled many of the interior walls. Nevertheless, the old place was still knowable to Len and me. The best part of it was that those who bought it from my folks still lived there, and they hadn’t torn down the old place but instead built on it. Our modest home, the site of my wedding to Bobbi on the very day of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, still stood. Len had been about eight back then; now he is forty-five.

¬The house visit, as an end to the cemetery trip, pumped us up even more. It was icing on the cake of memory.

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