Wednesday, 28 October 2009

All you zombies

I don't go to cemeteries looking for dead people. I can find them far more easily online. No, even though I'm a family historian, all my dead rellies are buried across the ocean. Or are burnt to a crisp and scattered somewhere. I happen to live about a twenty-minute walk from Beechwood Cemetery which is really old (by Canadian standards), really historical, and really, really beautiful. Particularly in the autumn. So when I saw people on the sidewalks clutching phones, cameras, and mini-camcorders, my heart sank. It was the one perfect autumn Sunday to stroll up to the cemetery and there were policemen and a huge crowd ahead. Suddenly, the crowd lurched (yes, lurched) to the far side of Beechwood Avenue, cramming themselves on the narrow sidewalk, while the police patiently instructed them not to walk on the road. I had stumbled across the Annual Zombie Walk, and even though I had my camera with me, I didn't take pictures. (I stole this one from the Ottawa Citizen web site. Ashley Fraser took this as various people in rather disgusting make-up staggered across the St Patrick Bridge en route to the Parliament Buildings.) Did I mention I was squeamish?

As the rotting crowd of about 300 tottered away, I entered the cemetery driveway and passed two attendants who were chattering amiably as they stayed long enough to ensure that no undead blundered amongst the graves. I don't think the dead would care, but their living visitors might have taken umbrage. I climbed the steep hill that leads to the burial grounds and for a long time, I could hear the roars and moans of the fake zombies who were all very young and probably largely untouched as yet by death.

I am old enough to have been touched by death but, as I've said, I don't go to the cemetery in search of the dead, although I am happy to walk companionably beside them. The trees at Beechwood Cemetery vary wildly in age, and certainly in recent decades, they have been deliberately planted for variety, which usually means a full palate of colours at this time of year. After an unusually wet summer, the colours are not as vibrant as some autumns, but, you have to admit, they're not bad.

This particular afternoon, I headed as far east as time would allow. Beechwood Cemetery is enormous and I didn't even make it as far as the military section. Quite a few people drove through, and I climbed off the path to let them pass, while looking at recent monuments and poignant memorials to more ancient families, together at last.

The leaves on the ground scuttled and whispered between the stones in sunset-coloured herds, and I waited to catch my second leaf of the autumn. Finally a golden beauty fell directly in front of me. I snatched it and made a wish for elder daughter. The first wish is always for younger daughter who has so many needs. If I catch enough, I'll make a wish for the Resident Fan Boy although I somehow think that he has all he wants. Maybe that's a tad presumptuous. His last name is on one of these tombstones, but there's no relation, thank goodness.

Much of this weekend was spent in the company of the Resident Fan Boy's dead relatives. Research last winter led to the true identity of the second wife of the RFB's paternal grandfather. Further research a few weeks ago led to the name of his first wife. Last week, a sheaf of birth, death and marriage certificates I'd ordered from the General Register Office in England arrived, and they seem to confirm that the Resident Fan Boy's late father and his late paternal uncle were, in fact, half-brothers. Paternal grand-dad had two children with his first wife, three children with second, returned to first wife and had another child (said uncle) before first wife popped clogs, leaving him free to marry second wife. My late father-in-law had carefully given me enough false information to blow me off course, and the three children of the two brothers had no idea, other than something strange had been going on. So, at the Resident Fan Boy's request, I carefully composed a time-line to lead his sister and cousin (the one who's not speaking to me) through the tangled web of deceit designed to protect delicate Edwardian sensibilities. Both women profess to be quite uninterested, but have been pelting the RFB with further questions...

I was thinking about this as I turned my toes westward, in the direction where the zombies had vanished. I imagine both my late father-in-law and his (half)brother would not have been pleased with me for dragging these skeletons out of the closet. However, I discovered an aunt and an uncle (both long dead) for my husband, his sister and cousin. Not everyone wants to know the truth about their family history (if the truth is indeed what I've uncovered -- people did lie, even on official documents), but, as I've said before, there is a certain comfort in reclaiming long-dead relatives, and I do think we forget them at our peril.

Is that why, I wondered as I wandered, hundreds of kids were staggering through Ottawa with extruded eyeballs and fake blood dribbling from their mouths? Because they can't remember where they come from? Are they so afraid of death that they think the state of un-death might be kind of neat? Or are they so unacquainted with death that they think spoofing it is a hoot? They probably haven't given it much thought. I'm probably giving it way too much thought.

When I got home, I told the family about my adventures. Elder daughter rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you've never heard of the Annual Zombie Walk. It's been going on forever." Eight years, actually. That's forever to a seventeen-year-old.


Jane Henry said...

Great post, Persephone, and glad to see you've recovered from your Thanksgiving travails.

I think the young zombies are just probably having a laugh arent' they? As you say, they're unlikely to have been touched by death yet. I know you don't like horror flicks, but have you seen Shaun of the Dead? A funny, romantic and ott horrific zombie movie. Simon Pegg is an unlikely but endearing hero. (and you have to love a zombie movie where they decapitate the zombies with LPs (-:)

I am rambling, but I would v much like to send you a copy of my new tome. There's a fair bit about blogging in it and I've acknowledged some of my blogging friends, including you. So I'd like you to have a copy. Anyway I can get it to you?

bonnie-ann black said...

persephone: i second the Shaun of the Dead recommendation -- although not a lover of horror movies, it was one of my favorite all-around movies of the last 5 years (and then came Hot Fuzz!).

love the cemetery photos -- we should trade off. i live across the street from Woodlawn Cemetery (first burial 1863... all NYC's oldest cemeteries are way downtown in manhattan). i love taking photos at cemeteries and spent a lot of time in england taking photos. some of them are not as old as you'd think -- well, the tombstones aren't. seems that all the pre-Georgian graves and markers were swept away to bury the more recently dead (18th - 20th century). but still pretty cool.

have a happy halloween!

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

What a fab post - autumn leaves, zombies, family history and official history... all things that thrill me in different ways.

These are some gorgeous photographs and as ever you have a delicacy in phrasing that brings your musings on family and relationships vividly to life.

Persephone said...

Thanks very much, all! Sorry for not answering sooner, but got sidetracked by Hallowe'en stuff at our house.

I've seen bits of Shaun of the Dead and have several friends who adore both that and Hot Fuzz (including elder daughter), but yer talkin' to the woman who is still grossed out by the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and hasn't been able to bring herself to watch Monty Python's Meaning of Life. Sorry, I'm just too much of a wuss to find vomiting and dismemberment funny.

Jane/Jules, what a kind offer! I'll get in touch via my alternate email account.

Oh, and the cousin who wasn't talking to me phoned on Friday. She liked my family research! I thought she might be talking to me in a year or two, and it's been nearly a year...

chrissie_allen said...

Love this post Persephone...those beautiful trees and their colours.
I find a walk through the cemetery
so fabulous and, until my move here to a terraced cottage-type house in an urban street, always lived near matter where I moved. Never met any zombies though :-)
I also like your leaf wishing!