The tombstone in the cemetery near the Winnebago River was an unexpected find.
The marker bore the name of an infant named Louisa who died in 2006. Her last name was my grandmother's maiden name. I recognized the name of the infant's father, but I wasn't sure if this was the same kid who visited my grandma with his mother. The son of my mom's cousin.
I later learned this was the grave of my relative's child. The granddaughter of one of my mom's beloved cousins and his wife.
I was pleased my husband and I walked through the cemetery. Although I wasn't certain of the family connection while standing at the grave, I couldn't help but be inspired to memories of grandma, great aunts and my mom, who died this past July.
Within an instant I was swept to the front porch of my great aunt Florence's house where other great aunts, my mom and an aunt would often gather. I knew back as a kid, teen and young adult this was a privilege. I was privy to some half-secrets, tales from youth, incidents of bickering. I listened while I hoped my great aunt Florence's cigarette didn't ignite her oxygen tank.
There was a period of time in which my grandma lived next door to her sister, around the corner from a sister-in-law and they all lived within two blocks of another sister.
When things got heated on Florence's front porch, it was good to be within walking distance of home.
I thought of that and more as we walked through the cemetery Sunday afternoon.
As I thought of my own family, I wondered about the descendants of others buried in the cemetery.
Some tombstones had the birth date of a wife but no death date. This was years after the wife would have died. Why wasn't the date added? Did she move away? Did remaining family always intend to engrave the date but other things got in the way? Where did the children move to?
When was the last time anyone visited this grave or that one? How did a Civil War veteran that served with a unit from New York end up in North Iowa?
While cemeteries are places for the dead, they are as much a place for the living. A piece of granite or a wooden cross wrapped in artificial flowers thrust into the ground is a way to honor our dead but it also connects us to our past and to history.
The countryside is filled with graves of our ancestors. As folks wander through a cemetery in rural Illinois or a small town in Pennsylvania, they will see those tombstones of our great-grandparents or a great-great-uncle. Or the grave of a relative they didn't know was buried there.