What Think You?
Well, here’s another epitaph for you to ponder. This particular one is very special to me. It is located in Evergreen Cemetery, Owego, NY. This is the town where I grew up. The cemetery was designed (like many in the 19th century) to be a place to wander, reflect or just admire the funerary art of the day. Evergreen is a smaller version of the famous Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.
When I was young, this cemetery became one of my favorite places to walk through. I’ve taken many friends up to “Cemetery Hill” and have spent many hours sitting and admiring the view of my little hometown below me. I could almost see my house, but the Susquehanna River slowly flowed past the buildings from its origin at Otsego Lake in Cooperstown to its final destination merging with the saltwater of the Chesapeake Bay.
It was a perfect place to go “parking” when I was a teenager. I could hold and kiss my girlfriend in relative privacy…if one didn’t mind the shadows and 1000+ tombstones among the trees, the Evergreen trees.
Yes, I could kiss and walk about with my love. I could dance or sing. I had the spark of life in me…unlike all the local residents.
Along side one of the drives and down a few steep steps was a large headstone. On it was the epitaph I will share with you. I’ve heard (but cannot verify) that it is one of the longest epitaphs in America. The very length of the wording makes it difficult to photograph in a way this stone deserves. It was a multi-family marker. The grave sites of those mentioned at the bottom of the stone are scattered around a fairly large plot. I often wondered who these people were. Where did they live? Was I friends of one of the descendants?
What I didn’t have to ask myself was what they thought of life. It’s all there on the epitaph. Those words affect me to this day…now that I am no longer a teenager with a sweetheart on my arm. The individuals who wrote the message were once like me. The only real difference was that I could walk away, they couldn’t.
I figure that I am now as old as those were who were responsible for the epitaph. I’m closer to their fate now than I was fifty years ago. Statically speaking, that is.
To me, the message on the stone is as relevant as a prayer, as deep as any existential philosophy and as timely as a STOP sign. Yes, this STOP sign asks you to hold on for a moment and think of where you are on the awesome road of life.
I was just there today. In fact, I married a Pixley. Owego was a cool town to grow up in. I remember the ‘necking’ up in the cemetery too.