Another Memorial…

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I was talking to my sister this morning. She told me the Harvey Family was buried yesterday in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Saturday, April Fool’s Day. They were murdered January 1, and buried exactly three months later.

I guess I never really thought about it deeply enough to realize that, of course, they would have to go through the gathering of evidence – my mind can’t go any deeper into it than that – “the gathering of evidence”. The fact that it took three months to give this wonderful family an honorable burial is just surreal to me. My logical mind can certainly grasp the importance of putting the case to rest, but my heart just screams at the thought that they were only buried yesterday. Since my sister told me I’ve been walking around the house, doing laundry, picking up things, trying not to dwell. To do anything but dwell.

She found out about the funeral from an acquaintance of hers who would be attending. When my sis mentioned that she wanted to tell me when the funeral would occur, this person said, “Well…..it’s by invitation only,” in a really derogatory tone as if my sister and I were just some gawkers who want to jump on the bandwagon of Harvey mourners. Instead of the friend that I was and am. It left a bad taste in her mouth and mine.

Okay, I’m being really harsh. I certainly am not going to judge someone who was obviously close enough to the Harveys to warrant an invitation to their funeral. I would hope they would keep it very private. But think about it. “By Invitation Only”. God, that just sounds so weird. Everything about this tragedy has been surreal, weird, unseemly, tragic, unreal, you fill in the blank. But to state it in those terms just freaks me out. Isn’t there another way to put it? Couldn’t she have stated it differently? Maybe I’m overanalyzing, it’s certainly a trait I’m known for. But today for some reason I can’t get past it. It makes it sound like some black tie event, instead of a final chapter in a story we wish never would have happened.

Yeah, I know, it’s not the final chapter. Sis also told me about trees they had planted in Maymont Park near the buffaloes. This is nice, right? I’m sure there will be a lot of this kind of thing in the near future. Tangible memorially-type things.

I’m teaching “Tangerine” by Edward Bloor to my 8th graders and in the book they plant a tree to memorialize a student tragically killed by lightning during football practice. In the book the gesture seems empty and “lip-service” –ey, as if the school were just doing it in order to let everyone know that yeah, they understood the tragedy of this event now will you please just get off our back about it?

I hope the trees in Maymont Park aren’t there for that reason. Somehow I think I’ll know when I go visit them. You know I’ll visit them. I have to now. People need those tangible real things like trees and graves to visit so that they can begin somehow to make sense of death. They place flowers and say words and walk away maybe feeling just a little bit better, right?

I’m sorry, I guess the bitterness which had only begun to leave me has come back for a little while. I’ve been trying to be “healthy” about the event, meditate, write, to honor them by living vigorously. But when I heard the whole “By Invitation Only” thing, I don’t know, I mean, God! (takes deep, calming breath)

I have to admit it seems only too appropriate that they would be buried in Hollywood Cemetery. Right smack in Oregon Hill. The memories I have of this place would fill a book. It’s so quintessentially Richmond – as they are. Now they are part of Richmond’s history just like Lewis Ginter and that lady who wrote all the murder mysteries, what’s her name? Edith something?

In high school and during my twenties my friends and I spent many sunny afternoons trolling through the tiny alleys and byways of this place. Visiting graves decorated with lambs (for infants who died) or grieving angels. We’d smoke, drink purloined beer, laugh, talk about life. I remember one time going to Dairy Queen and eating sundaes while studying the graves and their dates, their sentiments.

I vaguely remember sneaking into the big iron gates after dark, but I can’t remember if we were even successful or what we did once we got in. Look for ghosts? Hold a séance? Smoke a cig and hope we didn’t get caught? I mean, the place was scary enough in the daytime.

I remember thinking the caretaker’s house, a big gothic monstrosity, was haunted, and when they turned the thing into student apartments I was intrigued and repelled. What would it be like to have free access to Hollywood all night long? To live so closely among the dead?

My friends and I even had a meeting place. The “Bryan” gravestones which were at the far end of the cemetery in the older section, way up high, behind a wall which overlooked the James River. We’d even pick flowers to place on their graves. Then, we’d sit on the wall, warm ourselves in the sun, smoke, and listen to the river. I always thought it a good place to live out your years after death. I bet the Bryans think so too.

The only other cemetery that comes close to Hollywood’s Gothic, Victorian atmosphere is the Pere-Lachaise in Paris. The place has an aura that makes you want to walk with reverence, with mindfulness, with silence. In my late twenties when I was trying to come to terms with myself, to overcome a harrowing depression that seemed would never leave me, I would go to Hollywood and hide among the gravestones. I’d take a journal and write. I remember when the breezes would blow how I would sometimes hear voices in the trees. The dappled sun would laugh through these very same trees and it would calm me and I would write, write, write.

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p.s. After I wrote this, I told my husband about what that person going to the funeral said. He made a face and said, “Wow, that’s so quintessentially Richmond,” without even seeing what I wrote. Since he grew up in Buffalo, he’s an impartial observer I guess. Anyway, it made me look at my hometown with a more critical eye. Underneath our veneer of “community” do we have an underbelly of incestuous clique-ish-ness and “I’m in with the ‘in’ crowd” going on? Blech.

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