Archive for May 9th, 2009

Ernie Davis GravesiteI was in Woodlawn Cemetery yesterday, visiting my mother’s grave for Mother’s Day.  I may have mentioned before that I am a big fan of cemeteries.  I like being among the quiet of cemeteries, walking through the varied architecture of the different stones and all the names.  The names.  I particularly like the names.  Some are just simple names but some are relics from the past, names you just don’t hear anymore.  Orlo.  Myrtle.  Elmer.  Alvinia.  Harlo, who resides next to my grandfather who is a simple Frank.

There’s a certain magic and power in reading these names, almost as though by just uttering the name a little spark of their life is ignited.  As though there’s a certain gratitude expressed back by the mere mention of their names.

Now, I’m not going to go all spiritual here because I don’t even know what I believe in that aspect.  To the best of my knowledge, I have never encountered ghosts or spirits.  Never been haunted.  I’ve had a couple of psychic readings which I’ve found kind of laughable because I’m always left with the feeling that these people were getting nothing from me and were struggling just to say anything that might trigger some type of reaction.  Let’s just say they didn’t make me a believer.  

But in the cemetery I have had a couple of coincidences that just make me wonder.  Several years ago, my wife and I were taking a stroll through Woodlawn, just walking along quickly  and periodically saying aloud a name that struck us from the stones we passed.  At a certain point, I was suddenly reminded of a young guy who I had went to high school with.  He wasn’t a friend, in fact I only knew him from passing nods in the hall at school.  He had lived a fairly hard life and many years before had broken into a closed factory, going through a broken window and in the process slicing his wrist so severely that he died within a few steps.  I hadn’t thought of him for many years and suddenly I wondered where a kid from a poor family like him might be buried.  Would his family been able to bury him in a place like the lovely park of this cemetery?  Within thirty seconds,the thought now evaporated, a stone that was at the back of the plot we were passing caught my eye.  The engraving had an interesting look, something I hadn’t seen before.

 I cut through the stones to get a look and stopped several feet from it, now being able to read it.  It turned out to be nothing special and as I turned to head back I looked down.  It was the grave of my high school acquaintance.  It had a simple plate that was flush with the ground, that could only be seen from above.  It gave me a little shiver.  Most likely pure coincidence, but what had made me think of his name that day, only moments before?  What made me notice and approach for the first time  a gravestone that I had walked by probably a hundred times before?  What had made me stop at this precise spot to read it?  I gave him a quick greeting and headed back to the road.

Yesterday, as I was coming back from my mother’s grave I cut through the stones to visit my grandparents’ gravesite.  As I walked, I thought of Ernie Davis’ grave in the same park.  Ernie was the first African-American to win the Heisman trophy and his tragic death from leukemia had been the subject of a movie this past year, The Express.  He was actually known as the Elmira Express but the Elmira was dropped to give the title more widespread appeal.  He has been hero of legendary stature in the Elmira area since I was a tiny child.  As I walked I thought of the Davis movie then I suddenly thought of Marty Harrigan, his high school coach and a big influence on his life.  He had also been my high school principle.  He had died a few years back which was probably the last time I had given him more than a fleeting thought.  

Within a minute I was at my grandparents’ gravesite and spent a few moments there.  As I turned to leave, I glanced to my right and there  it was.  Martin Harrigan.  I chuckled a little and said hello before heading back to the car.  

I don’t know.  Probably nothing more than a puzzling coincidence but it makes one wonder about how the world operates and if we are truly aware and subject to everything that goes on around us.  

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