Saturday, July 11, 2009

Doing At Last That Thing We've Been Needing To Do

It's been over five decades since my maternal grandparents Roy and Olive Pearce moved from Hoisington, Kansas, but our families ties to that community remain strong. My grandfather Roy worked for many years as a pipefitter in the roundhouse there.

My mother Delana was the eldest of their five children, two of whom died in childhood at Hoisington. Daughter Leota (1923-1929) and lone son Dallas (1927, one month old) were interred in that city's Fairview Cemetery, their graves marked only with temporary markers.

Over the years it became one of those "things to do" that would make anyone's Bucket List: to go back sometime and place more permanent markers on the graves. My mother talked about it, my sister Sue and I talked about it, and always something or another happened to put it off.

So on this Saturday Sue and I resolved to finally take on this project. We decided that instead of obtaining two normal headstones we would create two concrete ones of our own design. My niece Katie helped us gather the needed concrete mix, sand, water, wood, buckets, rags, and two new temporary markers.

Katie and Sue put together the wood forms we would be using when pouring the new concrete stones.

From Sue's home in Salina we drove west at 10:30 AM from Salina past Ellsworth toward Hoisington. With temperatures for the day forecast to be in the high 90s and the humidity to be upwards of 200%, we decided that we had best get fortified first for the upcoming labor. So at the small community of Redwing we turned off of Kansas Highway 4 and headed eight miles north to the nearly-as-small community of Beaver, Kansas. We entered Mo's Tavern, a microbrewery and hidden Kansas treasure where the food is always good and homemade beer better. After the usual excellent meal Sue downed the Half Moon Wheat Beer and I an Elm Street Porter, and we were then good to go.

Or so we thought.

We headed on to Hoisington and on the east edge of town turned into the Fairview Cemetery. Around 20 years ago I had been shown where the graves were, and went to the same area. We looked and searched and prodded the ground, but could find no trace of the markers. This presented a real problem, as we wanted to be sure that we were placing the headstones in the right place. Not being able to find the old temporary markers meant that we needed to track down someone who could help us locate the two plots. Even in a city the size of Hoisington finding such a person on a weekend could be difficult.

So we first went to the Nicholson-Ricke Funeral Home on North Main Street, our logic being if anyone knows who could help us find burial plots in the local cemeteries it would be the local funeral director. However, they were at that moment in the middle of a funeral service, and so we had to come up with a Plan B.

On any given weekend in small town Kansas there are two other possible entities that you can approach with this kind of problem - the local police and the local library. We found the library first, and in the cool of the inside the weekend librarian was kind enough to put through for us a series of local phone calls trying to track some one down who could help. The city manager was not home and so did not answer; neither did the city clerk. The city police line was busy.

At last I asked her to go ahead and call the funeral home, hoping that we would not be disturbing the services there. The director answered and was very kind, offering to look up the two plots and meet us back at the cemetery in about twenty minutes, which happened to be where the funeral service was coming out to as well.

We thanked the librarian for her help, did a quick tour of town and met the director at the cemetery a little after 2PM. Using a 1940 map he quickly ascertained that we had been looking in the wrong place (so much for my memory) and quickly located the two temporary markers, which had been pushed down into the ground and grown over by the Bermuda grass. We thanked him and he returned to the ongoing funeral service.

With relief we unloaded our gear and began the ardous task of preparing the ground for the concrete base. The grass was thick and stubborn, the ground was rock hard and unforgiving, and the hot July sun would slip in and out between clouds to sear down upon us. It did not take long for both of us to be drenched with sweat.

After what seemed hours we had the ground dug and leveled and our two wood forms in place. We then handmixed the concrete with sand and water, poured the concrete in the forms, and smoothed them down. Then we took two new temporary markers and pushed them down into the concrete.

Here Sue can be seen decorating the poured headstones with minature marbles pressed into the cement.

This 1925 photograph shows my mother Delana Pearce, top, with her sister Leota, bottom, then not quite two years old. Leota was the age of five when she passed away in 1929.
The finished folk art-style headstones now stand above the ground several inches and so should keep the lettering safe from renegade riding lawn mowers for many years to come.

After 80 and 82 years respectively our aunt and uncle are once again being treated with the respect and dignity that all former loved ones deserve. In a few weeks we will return to remove the wood forms and leave these children to continue to rest in peace.

It now being mid-afternoon we dragged our sweat-soaked bodies into the nearby Dairy Queen and spent the next two hours drying out in the blessed air conditioning and replenishing our liquid-parched bodies before heading back to Salina satisfied with a job accomplished at last.