The visitation and interment of ashes was scheduled for Friday, June 19. I had sent notices to my second cousins (grandchildren of my grandmother’s four older sisters) and the few remaining friends on her Christmas card list. Rev. Ron Dauphin, minister of Olmsted Community Church where I grew up, agreed to lead a brief graveside service and gave me permission to use the church’s fireside room for the visitation. I would have held it at the funeral home, but they didn’t allow refreshments and I wanted this to be a hospitable celebration of her life, not a solemn funerary occasion.
My dear friend Helen offered to fly up with me, and we decided to stay for several days so I could bum around my home town. Bless her!
We arrived Thursday afternoon, picked up the rental car, checked into a hotel in Middleburg Heights about 4 miles away, and met with Ron at the church at 4 p.m. I had sent him a couple of prayers from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer that I wanted incorporated, and he was more than willing to do so.
Our meeting was brief, so I took time to show Helen around the church. It was fun looking at old photographs on the walls, recognizing people from long ago and probably boring her with more stories than she wanted to hear.
We drove over to the cemetery, just half a mile away, and ran into Dan Hill, the superintendent. I had enjoyed meeting him when my father was buried there, and we had a nice chat about the plans for the next day. I told him my knees won’t allow me to get down on the ground, so he said he would put the container in the hole. He also agreed to provide a trowel so each of us could throw some dirt on top—something I have found meaningful as closure.
He also pointed out what he had done for my father’s grave marker. My father is buried in one of the few spots between a narrow drive and the escarpment down to Rocky River, an area covered with myrtle. Dan had raised the marker up 4” so it would always be above the growth. What a thoughtful gesture!
The cemetery is small, old, under huge trees, and was originally for Union soldiers.
My stillborn sister and little brother, Tommy, are buried just across the drive from my father. Mother wanted her ashes in Tommy’s grave, so that’s where they were to be.
(after I got home, I found this poem on the internet. There had been five pennies scattered on and around Ruth’s grave)
We met my cousins Bill and Lil for dinner. Bill was especially close to my parents and we have stayed in touch over the years.
Friday morning we went to Heinen’s, a nice grocery store nearby, where I had ordered a large tray of cookies and bought some fruit and drinks for the visitation.
My sister Becky and her husband, Willie, had driven from Iowa (almost 12 hours). We met for lunch, then went across the street to the church to set up the refreshments.
The visitation was scheduled from 2:30 – 4 p.m., and people started arriving promptly.
One of the first was an old playmate of mine, Emery, son of one of Mother’s best friends from high school. I hadn’t seen him since we were about nine years old! His much younger sister, Shari, (whom I don’t remember having ever met) had been faithfully sending Mother little notes on hand made stationery for five or six years. She did it to honor HER late mother’s dear friend, but was out of town, so Emery came in her stead and even went to the cemetery with us.
All but one of the second cousins and spouses were there. Some former neighbors who had seen her obituary in the Cleveland Plain Dealer came to pay their respects. Becky and I were each surprised by having one of our respective high school classmates show up. The older brother of one of my high school friends, for whom my father had worked part time after he retired, was also there and came to the cemetery. Though we only saw a couple of Mother’s friends (she had outlived most of them), I was pleased that about 30 people were there to honor her.
We car pooled to the cemetery, since parking was limited and we cousins were going to have an early supper together at a restaurant next to the church where we all had parked. Rev. Dauphin had started the service when I suddenly realized that my sister and brother-in-law, who were riding with one of the second cousin couples, weren’t there.
How could they get lost in half a mile?
Karl was driving and hadn’t realized the cemetery had two sections. He had gone to the newer one up the hill and around the bend. His sister-in-law, Marcia, called him on his cell phone, then handed the phone to Dan Hill so he could give directions. I later learned that Karl wears hearing aides, and what with trying to listen to the phone and the chatter in the car, was getting more and more turned around. It was actually rather funny listening to our side of the conversation.
“No, keep going away from the railroad tracks. Right, not left. No, AWAY from the tracks! Now left and down the hill.”
Finally we saw their car pull into the far side of the cemetery, and Karl delivered the last of our group.
The service was brief and meaningful. Both Becky and I spoke. Then Dan handed me the container, removed the cover to the hole, and I handed it back to him to put it in place.
We each put a trowel full of dirt on top and it was over.
After saying good-bye to the non-family members, we went back to the church where Helen, Becky and I took turns cleaning up and visiting with relatives.
Walking across to the restaurant brought back memories for Bill, Becky and me, since we had all grown up in Olmsted Falls. The restaurant was in the old fire station. The two jail cells had been in the basement and the one fire engine on the ground floor. The second floor had had three rooms—the mayor’s office, the police chief’s office, and the village council chamber. The top floor had two rooms, one was the village library, the other was my kindergarten classroom!
I’ve sent photos to the family members, but those present were Becky and me, granddaughters of Ruth Schmidt, the youngest of the five Schmidt sisters, plus Willie and Helen; Bill, grandson of Alma, the 2d oldest sister, and his wife, Lil; and three grandchildren of Lillian, the oldest sister: Barbara, Harvey, their spouses Karl and Eileen, and their sister Marcia, a widow. JoAnn (Raki) Rupert, my last U.S.A. second cousin on my father’s side, and her husband, Bob, were with us, too.
We enjoyed a nice supper together.
Becky and Willie left early the next morning for their long drive home.
I had carried Mother’s ashes on the plane in a silk tote bag. Back at the hotel, I tucked it, empty, into a corner of my carry-on, suddenly aware of the finality of her absence. The other time I nearly lost it was during church Sunday morning at Olmsted Community Church. Rev. Dauphin mentioned Mother’s service in the prayers, and one of the hymns we sang was “The Old Rugged Cross.” It was another of her favorites.
Helen and I spent the next three days exploring Olmsted Falls. I pulled into the drive to the house where I had grown up and saw a man mowing the grass. Thinking I should explain why we were just sitting there, I got out, introduced myself, and told him my parents had lived in that house for 45 years and that my father had built the barn in the back as his woodworking shop. We got to chatting, and he invited us inside.
We spent nearly an hour talking about what I remembered, seeing what changes had been made, and walking through the yard. Major nostalgia! The clothes line hooks my father had installed outside on the house and garage were still there. “Ah HAH,” he said. “I told my wife that’s what they were, but she didn’t believe me!”
The garden—which had taken up half the lot—was long gone. They had made some nice improvements on the basement bedroom and bath my father had installed. And I told him the fruit cellar story, about when my father had made root beer, bottled it, and stored it with other canned goods in the basement space under the front steps. He had used too much yeast, and the bottles exploded. What a mess! They had to clean it up, but I was secretly glad. It was foul tasting stuff.
Mine had been the last class that had spent all 12 years in the same school building. It was now divided up for use by various city departments, but it was fun to find a photo of myself as a high school freshman playing clarinet in the band. The mayor chatted with us, and got one of her staff members to take us up to the third floor. It has been gutted to the bare brick walls, forlorn, and looking like it might collapse down on to the offices below.
At the end of the hall was what they call the “historic room.” Actually, a junk room, filled with old desks, band uniforms, yearbooks, and a model of the covered bridge my father had made and donated to the town in the mid-1990’s. Here is the bridge, built long after I left home, and his model.
The night before we left, Helen and I had supper with the one second cousin who had been out of town, Sandy. She is three years older than I, the granddaughter of Emma, the 3d Schmidt sister. Emma’s widower, Reuben Parker, married my grandmother, Ruth. Sandy’s mother was Phyllis, my mother’s older first cousin/step sister, the one she often mistook me for.
Mother was buried in the grave of my little brother, Tommy. I have ordered a brass marker similar to the one for my father. I’ll leave Tommy’s grave marker where it is, and have hers placed over the spot she was buried.