Week 17 – Cemetery

The prompt for week 17 is Cemetery. I’ve been looking forward to this week since the April prompts were announced. What genealogist doesn’t like cemeteries?!? Not only are they a delight to wander through, there’s often a lot of information to be found. There are so many different ways to interpret this prompt. Nevermind 52 weeks of ancestors; I think I could write 52 weeks of cemetery posts! For this post, I have chosen to write about my favorite cemetery, Greenwood Cemetery.

I have been going to Greenwood Cemetery in Coventry, Rhode Island for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I spent a lot of time with my father’s parents, Goff and Hazel Hawkins,  and they were of the generation who always put flowers on graves. Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as my grandmother still called it, was the big event. My grandmother would go to the local nursery about a week before Memorial Day to be sure to get the best plants before they were all picked over. She went armed with a list of the graves in need of geraniums and painstakingly picked out a special color for each person. My grandfather was tasked with digging the holes and filling them with a new geranium plant. Decorating the graves was an all day affair. First we went to the small, family cemeteries. They were small, historical cemeteries containing just a few stones. I’m pretty sure my grandparents were the only ones who visited some of these graves, as they were always overgrown. My grandfather was always prepared and brought heavy-duty pruning shears along with his other implements of planting. Then, onto Greenwood Cemetery, where my grandmother’s parents and grandparents are buried. The final stop was the cemetery in Rehoboth, Massachusetts where my grandfather’s father and grandparents were buried. This cemetery was about a half hour’s drive, which to a Rhode Islander requires packing, if not a full lunch, than at least a hearty snack and a cooler of cold drinks.

Greenwood is my favorite of all the cemeteries we would visit. It is big without being too big. The cemetery is still in use, so it has new graves alongside the graves of Revolutionary War heroes. The cemetery is full of dirt tracks leading to different parts of the cemetery. Plenty of places to park the car along the way so you can get out and explore.

When my step-dad’s brother, Stevan Lewonis, died in 1996, he was buried at Greenwood. Uncle Steve is buried near my grandmother’s sister, Adelaide. It’s pretty neat that two completely unrelated sides of my family are neighbors in the same cemetery.

Over the years, more of my family has been laid to rest at Greenwood. Aunt Judy has joined Uncle Steve, and my grandparents Bernard and Nancy Lewonis are in the plot behind Steve and Judy.

A short distance away are Goff and Hazel Hawkins, laid to rest next to their daughter, Judith Marseglia.

After Grandma Hawkins died in 2009, I knew it fell to me to carry on the tradition of planting the flowers for Memorial Day. I have my own list of graves to visit and typically buy begonias instead of geraniums. Once I began researching my family history, I found myself in cemeteries far more often than just on Memorial Day. When I discovered the identity of my father’s birth mother, I was delighted to learn some of his maternal ancestors were buried in Greenwood Cemetery. This is the grave of my father’s great grandmother, Grace Gilkerson (née Johnson). You can read about how she may or may not have helped me solve a genealogical mystery, here.

I visit the cemetery often, and do my best to keep the graves of my ancestors neat and tidy. I’ve even invested in a jug of D2. D2 is a biological cleaner and one of a very few products that is approved by preservation societies for gravestone cleaning. It is used at Arlington National Cemetery.

Not too long ago, the home I was renting sustained some structural damage and I needed to relocate for a short while. My landlord happened to have a vacant property available, and I moved there temporarily. The house abutted my cemetery! I would have been happy living next to any cemetery, but was beyond thrilled to be living next to MY cemetery. I could even see my great great grandmother Grace’s grave from the windows on the back side of the house. Each night when I went to bed, I’d look out my bedroom window, and say, “Goodnight, family.

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