Monday, April 12, 2010

A Strange Man


"You're a strange man", my son said to me the other day. He said it with a practiced delivery which made me think it was a phrase he had used about me often, particularly when talking to his friends. "What about your father, Alex, what's he like?". "He's a strange man". That kind of thing. Alexander is at home at the moment, revising for his Year 2 exams and as he reads through his lecture notes on neuropathology and the like I can see him giving me sidelong glances which makes me wonder whether I might represent his first successful diagnosis. Perhaps he will write me up as a case study "Alan Burnett : A Strange Man".

The thing that brought about his comment the other day was a simple and well-intentioned invitation. It was a pleasant Spring day and I thought he might have spent too long indoors pouring over his text books so I invited him to join me in a little trip out. "Where are you going?", he said. "To a graveyard", I replied. "Why?" he asked with considerable emphasis". "Just to look at the gravestones", I replied with measured logic. "Whose gravestone?" his question was now flavoured with exasperation. "Nobody in particular, just looking to see what turns up", said I. "You're a strange man", said he bringing the conversation to an end and returning to his books.

It is all the fault of the delightful JamaGenie over at the Saturdays' Child blog : she's the one who got me interested in gravestone watching. She does this wonderful Tombstone Tuesday thing where she will focus on a gravestone and the story of the person or persons therein. There is a randomness about it which I like - almost like opening a book at any page and beginning to read. The gravestone I chose last week was the one illustrated above. The inscription is as follows:

In Affectionate Remembrance of Hannah, the beloved wife of Sam Wood of Brighouse, who departed this life April 5th 1869, aged 34 years. Her end was peace. Also Mary, daughter of the above who died April 28th 1869, aged 7 years and 11 months. She bloom'd like a flower, then faded away". Also of the above named Sam Wood who died January 6th 1872, aged 36 years.

So what story have we here?  What brought about the death of mother and daughter within a few weeks of each other. As I walked around the graveyard I came across quite a few graves of people who had died in the Spring of 1869 so one can imagine that there was an outbreak of disease, although I have yet to discover what. From the census records it is clear that Sam married again shortly after Hannah's death, and his second wife was also called Hannah. A daughter from his marriage to Hannah I survived (Amelia) and a son (David Neil) from his marriage to Hannah II seems to have survived and later been adopted by a family in Halifax. But the precise story is unclear and further investigation is called for.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the graveyard. Like the gravestone of Sam Wood, it was dark and mysterious. And - call me strange if you must - but I quite like dark and mysterious.


22 comments:

  1. I have a thing for the dark and mysterious, as well, Alan, so I guess your Alex would call me a strange woman. I love to spend an afternoon in a graveyard, just browsing the stones, wondering and pondering.

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  2. Found myself doing the same in Reading on Saturday while my wife shopped. Putting a test film through a camera on which I hope I have repaired the light seals, gravestones seemed an appropriate subject for a sunny Spring morning.

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  3. A friend of mine has told me often that comments say more about the person saying them than receiving them. Perhaps your son is uncomfortable in some way. I find the details of this amazing planet and its humans quite fascinating myself. Aren't we all "strange" in a way? Some just decide to hide it deeper inside than others...

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  4. Call me strange too then, because I love having a wander in a graveyard and fortunately, I have one just the other side of the fence! Lately, we are even more inclined to visit since we're tracking its latest resident, a wild turkey we call "Pete" (the cemetery is St. Peter's Lutheran).

    Kat

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  5. oh i like it dark and mysteriuos as well...stay strange alan...stay strange...

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  6. The things that 'turn up' for you in graveyards are fascinating.
    Perish the thought that you should ever succumb to mortality, but your son's comment would make a great epitaph and provide a lot of blogger for similarly 'strange' people who also like to browse the stones at leisure...
    Much more curious than Spike Milligan's "I Told You I Was Ill"...

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  7. .. the previous comment was meant to say 'blog fodder', not 'blogger'!

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  8. How funny. I'm always amazed to discover there are folks of like mind out there.

    I have always loved graveyards. Some of the most interesting I found were in New England. Although there are some doozies in the pioneer graveyards around here, too.

    Nice to know I'm not the only one who's thought of as, er, "odd." (grin)

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  9. Oh, by the way--I'm of a mind that at a certain age, all children think their parents are odd. Or maybe it's just me? (chuckle)

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  10. He has his mother's diagnostic acumen.
    What we medics call 'garit' - or is that just word verification?

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  11. Nothin' strange here, Alan. Lotsa history buried there, wot?

    And your answer "just looking to see what turns up"~LOL!

    But like you, I suspect an out-break of some sort; tb or cholera per'aps? Will th' mystery be solved?

    wv=tranill

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  12. 'Strange' people are the joy of my existence. I look for the kindred in them everywhere I go.

    I, too, love to "see what turns up" at old graveyards. It's the stories, I think ... the unknown, untold stories ... and the connection to my own mortality.

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  13. Well, I like you just the way you are, dear Alan. I suppose Amy would be happy to go along!

    I think it sounds like a fun way to spend the afternoon. I agree...interesting and fascinating to read the stones and wonder about the bodies below.

    The Mister, on the other hand, thinks graveyards creepy and has already informed me that if I go first, he is sorry, but will not be visiting my grave! LOL!

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  14. You are a strange man. It's why we all come here.

    I wrote an epitaph once... for a person I'd only spoken on the phone with a few times. Very strange, when I think about it.

    promess - the progression of a meal

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  15. WE all love a little dark and mysterious. The frustrating thing is never 'actually' finding out what did happen. Had the child been younger, it could have been as a result of RH- blood type but I think your disease hypothesis more likely. Then I guess also, children contracted mumps and measles and all those things that they're now protected from.

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  16. Being a bit strange is not a bad thing...perhaps your son will realise this as he gets older. I too love backstories for things. If you do further digging for the Sam Wood family, please post. I also loved graveyards as a young person though what I did in some was not strictly legal...

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  17. As I'm sure you're aware, I'm another frequenter or graveyards, Not because I have a thing for the "dark and mysterious", but for sheer love of the artistry of the stonecarving work. And I'm blessed in that regard, living in one of the centers of colonial-era artistry with acres of American primitive art just footsteps away from my door.

    Besides, cemeteries are nice, quiet, peaceful places to hang out in! Peace, quiet, and fine art; what more could you ask for?

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  18. i can't think of a higher compliment than to be called a strange (wo)man

    i completely (heart) graveyards!!

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  19. Mysterious, yes. But you are free to imagine (or make up) all manner of wonderful stories to go with the headstones. You don't seem so strange to me... ;o)

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  20. I find it fabulous that not only did you go gravestone watching, but you also did research into a particular one that struck you. A delightfully macabre endeavour. I would only hope that one day, when I've passed and have my gravestone somewhere, that someone will also go a'wandering past it, take notice and look a little deeper into the life that was lived by the bones that rest underneath...

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  21. Old graveyards do indeed tell stories--or open the possibilities of stories. I always like walking in the one at Mission Dolores in San Francisco for the same reason.

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  22. I must be strange too!
    People always leave clues left behind.It's like reading a Murder Mystery without having to where they buried the body!

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