Neil Gaiman won the Newberry Prize for his novel The Graveyard Book. I read it, loved it and have it on my bookshelf. Let me tell you what led me to read it.
One Sunday afternoon when Jim and I were driving back from Pennsylvania we listened to a fascinating NPR interview with author Neil Gaiman. He was talking about his book, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman told about how 20 years before, when he took his small child to a nearby graveyard to play, the germ of the idea of a child being raised in a graveyard began to jell. Nobody Owens—"Bod"—is the boy in this book who is raised by a community of ghosts.
As I listened to him, my hands itched to get a look at the book. Hearing about it reminded me of my mother. Mama told me from my earliest memory that she was “raised in Elmwood Cemetery.”
Mama’s daddy died when she was about 18 months old. Granny was devastated. Everyday she took Mama with her when she drove to Elmwood, parked at the grave and sat with Gus Keasler—every day for eight years.
As Mama got older, she was more and more restless on these long visits and Granny let her get out of the car. Mama had the run of the marble garden. She climbed over the statuary and eventually read the tombstones. She knew where everyone was buried. She could lead you right to anyone that she or Granny had known. She could tell you about them.
When Mama was about 90, years old our son Jim and his family went to Charlotte to visit her. She asked him to drive her out to Elmwood for a visit. Once they were parked she led them through the grounds, telling stories, introducing them to all the family. When I mentioned it to her she said: ” Of course I could do that. I was raised in Elmwood Cemetery.”
When reading Gaiman’s book, I enjoyed and admired the language, the images, and I liked the characters in the ghostly community. And, I thought of my mother and her relationship with all her ghosts. I have that too.
At age 92, my mother died late in the afternoon on a Thursday.
The next morning my husband Jim and I drove through the black wrought iron gates at Elmwood Cemetery. I stopped at Gus Keasler’s grave, where my grandmother now rests beside him, and I felt comforted.
Years have passed and now, since August this year—on Wednesdays I wave my pass for the familiar guards to see as I drive through the black wrought iron gates of Arlington National Cemetery. They smile and wave back.
Minutes later I park a few feet from Jim's headstone, near the Tomb of the Unknowns. People say "why do you go there every week?" I go, as my grandmother did, because being there gives me comfort.
Have you, too, noticed the ways in which life is a circle?