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Graveyards, worth a visit…

Muriel2017It’s been a busy time, so haven’t had time to write earlier. However going through my bookshelves, I found a small book ‘Comic Epitaphs: from the very best old graveyards’ published by Peter Pauper Press. Daughter Susan, who knows I enjoy old graveyards, bought it for me and some of the epitaphs in it are hilarious.

When Susan and I first visited Victoria together, we wandered through their old cemetery looking for Artist Emily Carr’s grave — in the rain. Much to my regret, we never found it.

I’ve wandered through many old graveyards on trips to Europe,

PereLachaise2

Pere Lachaise

but my very favorite is the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Once I spent a whole day there (except for a lunch break), following my carefully-marked map on which I’d circled all the composers, authors, and other special famous people who deserved special attention.

OscarWildePereLachaise

Oscar Wilde’s grave at Pere Lachaise

 

As I made my rounds along the ancient paths at Pere Lachaise, I noticed a moss-covered old crypt with my own family’s surname on it, but by that time was too tired to inquire at the office to try to learn more about them.

 

Here are a few epitaphs from the book Susan gave me. I hope you get as much of a kick out of them as I do.

Here lies Ann Mann

She lived an old maid

But died an old Mann
(Manchester)crossescolor

 

 

 

 

 

 

grim reaper

Here lies Pecos Bill

He always lied

And always will

He once lied loud

He now lies still
(Grand Forks)

 

 

 

Sacred to the memoryskelitons
Of Anthony Drake
Who died for peace
And dear quietness’ sake.
His wife was forever
Scoldin’ and scoffin’
So he sought repose
In a $12 coffin
(Marietta)

 

 

oldjewishcemetBudapest

Old Jewish Cemetery I visited in Budapest

 

Jonathan Grober
Died dead sober
Lord thy wonders
Never cease
(Clinkerton)

 

 

 

Owen Moore
Gone away
Owin’ more
Than he could pay
(Battersea)

Angel

 

Here lies a father of 29
There would have been more
But he didn’t have time
(Moultrie)

 

 

[On an infant]

Since I have been so
Quickly done for,
I wonder what I was
Begun for
Hammondport)

Here lies my wife
A slattern and shrew
If I said I missed her
I should lie here too!
(Selby)

‘The last time I saw Paris….’

photo by Susan Kauffmann

photo by Susan Kauffmann

9 a.m.: Installed on a bench, I’m pouring over the map of the famous Pere

Through the Chunnel, 1st class boring, regular class more fun

Through the Chunnel, 1st class boring, regular class more fun

Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Friends in England teased me about wanting to visit nothing but dead people. Indeed,

I had taken the Chunnel from London to Paris solely for this reason. It is where the likes of Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Bizet, Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Marcel

The famous 12th century philosopher Abelard & his Heloise, at last united in death

The famous 12th century philosopher Abelard & his Heloise, at last united in death

Proust, Simone Signoret, Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde are buried. Here the 12th century lovers Peter Abelard and Heloise were finally united in death.

If I pay proper homage and breath deeply at the gravesides of these brilliant/talented people, I might even absorb a little of their creativity. I mark the location of each grave I want to see and select the most logical route along Avenue des Peupliers towards Bizet’s final resting place. Just in case no one else has, I tell him his opera ‘Carmen’ (which he believed ‘a definite and hopeless flop’) is popular, famous and beloved today, 130 years later.

Frederic Chopin's tomb, Pere Lachaise cemetery

Frederic Chopin’s tomb, Pere Lachaise cemetery

That duty dispensed with, I turn onto Avenue des Ailantes, looking for Balzac’s grave. What is this? Right between Bizet and Balzac is an ancient, moss-covered tomb with my own family’s surname on it! If I had a name like ‘Smith’, I wouldn’t have given it a thought, but my maiden name ‘Ruch’ is not common. My dad, who immigrated to Canada from Lithuania during the 1920s wasn’t in touch with family left behind, and none lived where I grew up in Montreal.

Was it possible? Could it be? Was I walking around with the same genes as the people in this very tomb? I drop onto a nearby bench contemplating this unexpected turn of events, giving thought to the family I have never known. Unbidden, tears run down my cheeks. I approach the tomb and run my fingers along the rusted gate. I peer within the dark interior, but nothing is revealed. Without flowers to leave behind, I pick up a small pebble from the ground and carefully balance it on the peaked roof as a sign of my visit. Perhaps it is still there today.

Sarah Bernhardt's grave at Pere Lachaise

Sarah Bernhardt’s grave

After whispering goodbye to the “Famille J. Ruch” ghosts, I continue on my way, but that tomb won’t leave me alone. I visit each grave marked on my map, yet questions continue to plague me. How many relatives survived World War II? Where are they? What are they like? Do we look alike? Do any share my interests as well as my genes? Would I like them if I knew them? Would they like me?? How do you locate family you don’t even know?

Later, by mere chance, a friend told me about a genealogy website. I found it, typed in my maiden name and – hey, someone else was looking for people with the same name. I immediately sent off an email to Amanda, who lives in Longmeadow, MA. (USA). We ARE related; our grandmothers were sisters. She has created a family tree and because we found each other, she was able to fill in a few blanks. Amanda sent me a copy. When it arrived, I quickly tore the package open and set to work taping all 20 pages together. There, in black and white, were names and locations of dozens of relatives — in South Africa, Australia, England, Israel, Canada, and the U.S. Some had been murdered during WWII. One, whose dear ones had all perished took his own life; some made it through. Their tragedies and triumphs are, in part, my own.

An inquiry went off to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Could they put me in touch with any descendants of ‘Famille J. Ruch’? They didn’t respond, after all it IS a very old tomb. And, are Amanda and I alike? Well, both of us are writers…..

Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Full of surprises

Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Full of surprises