In honor of Halloween, here’s a re-post from 2014.
Some things are just plain scary. Like ghosts. They might be friendly Caspers but I don’t see how that’s reassuring when you have one in your bedroom watching you sleep. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I have a ghost watching my fitful slumber. But there could be. How would I know? I’m asleep.
Personally, I’m fascinated by things many find ridiculous. Things like ghosts, UFOs, Ouija boards and Sarah Palin. Actually, I take that back. I don’t find Ms. Palin fascinating, just ridiculous. And a little bit scary. But I digress…
Because I find these topics intriguing, the week before Halloween I took a guided tour of Mt. Olivet, our local cemetery. It happened to be a misty, gloomy morning.
How apropos, huh? Couldn’t have scripted it better. Lucky for us, the rain stopped just in time for the trek through the 20-acre cemetery in Marin County, the final resting place for over 14,000 and counting.
I was born and raised in this county and plan to die here. Unless, of course, I’m on vacation during my unfortunate demise, in which case good for me. Just haul me back home.
Here’s the plan: some of my ashes will be tossed from a pier at Lake Tahoe where my family and I spent summer afternoons boating and skiing.
My 3 executors (oops, I almost said executioners) are also instructed to illegally scatter some of me in the front yard of the home where I grew up, in the picturesque hills around Marin, and in the backyard of my current home. I have faith in their ability to sneak in back without detection and distribute the rest of me under the pine tree amongst my motley crew of dearly departed pets.
Let’s head back to the cemetery, shall we? My friends Sue and Karen, who joined me on the tour, were also born and raised here and have many family members buried at Mt. Olivet. In fact, their families go back to the late 1800s.
At one point our guide was giving us interesting tidbits about the founding families resting here when Karen blurted out, “Hey!” We all turned to see her wearing a huge smile while standing alongside a weathered monument. “This is my family!”
My friends and I had known quite a few of the permanent residents here, like our high school valedictorian who was killed in a boating accident not long after graduation. Old and young, we recognized many names of people in this Catholic cemetery who had lived in our neighborhoods.
The famous and infamous are buried here, like San Quentin prisoners. Juanita “The Duchess” Spinelli, the first woman to die in the prison’s gas chamber, has an unmarked grave.
Barbara “Bloody Babs” Graham, the third woman to be executed in the same way (many believe she was innocent) is buried on a knoll overlooking the shopping center next door. Susan Hayward won an academy award playing Graham in the movie, I Want to Live.
Legend has it, as Barbara was lead into the gas chamber she said, “Just this once I wish it wasn’t ladies first.” When an officer suggested she breathe deeply once the pellets drop “because it’s easier that way” his advice provoked a sneering, “How the hell would YOU know?”
Yes, it was a fascinating afternoon. And humbling too. And as the sun emerged, somehow the cemetery didn’t look so spooky anymore. I felt a tinge of gratitude that I’m healthy and still above ground, able to enjoy what turned out to be an enlightening Saturday with good friends.
Afterward, I ate a bag of decadent movie popcorn for lunch. And I didn’t care one bit that it probably contained a week’s worth of fat grams. There’s something about the sobering reality of walking among the dead that makes the idea of counting calories a bit, what’s the word…ridiculous.