Graver Situation

Yesterday was one of the most upsetting days of my life. When it was over I didn’t know whether to cry, to scream, to lash out at someone (who?).

It all began happily enough. Ash and Kathryn and I went to Hartford with a stop in Wethersfield where Ash got some footage of a Victorian-era brick house with black shutters. It had an addition on the back that was collapsing in on itself. Kathryn and I eventually escaped the wind by returning to the car. The weather forecast for cooler and less windy turned out to be dead wrong. It was the same temp, 58 degrees, and just as windy as Monday. The flags were all standing out at right angles to the poles and I felt a scouring action over my face every time I turned to the northwest.

We ventured next into Hartford where Ash found the graves of his parents and grandparents in Mount Zion Cemetery. Then we drove up to the North End to look for the old family homestead on Winter Street. We had to circle back on ourselves a bit because neither of us was sure of the exact location. En route we passed Needle Park, properly known as Sigourney Street Park.

It turned out that our destination street was one way, of course the wrong direction for us. When we were finally able to turn onto the narrow one-block street, what we saw was a disappointment. No. 6, where my grandmother and Ash’s grandfather were born and grew up, had been converted from a three-story structure of dark stone to a two-story building with aluminum siding attached its next door neighbor at No. 8.

As we turned off Winter we discovered Old North Cemetery at the end of the street. That’s where our great-grandparents – and Sam Colt – are buried. But of course we had arrived at the back end where the only entrance was a break in the fence, up over some rocks and tree stumps into an open field. So we had to go around the block, again.

Kathryn waited in the car as we walked and walked. We started along the south side because one of our older relatives had told us the graves were over by St. Monica’s, an Episcopal church that was set up by the whites so the black could have their own church. After a great deal of searching, we agreed that the family was not in that area and headed to the back where we remembered finding the graves several years ago.

We walked, and walked, and walked some more. The one blessing was that the weeds we had encountered last summer were gone and the grass was mowed (See “Devastation Times Two,” July 17, 2009), but this time I tripped over tree branches and almost wound up in one of the many bogs that had come from the run-off. Also got depressed at the amount of trash that had accumulated. Had I brought gloves I would have picked up at least some and put it in the very broken trash can resting on its side by the little storage building by the entrance. The more we walked the more discouraged I became. The wind didn’t penetrate the area, and it began grew, though not hot as it was on the last visit.

After we’d been there almost two hours Ash called me over to a huge tree that had been cut down and was lying in pieces spread over a large area. He said, “Here’s Charles and Lillian.”  I looked and the stones said, ”Charles H. James 1866-1952” and “Lillian P. James, 1871-1951.” They were our great-grandfather’s oldest son and his wife. The stones were flat to the ground, and there were no other graves anywhere nearby.

We stood for a few more minutes and Ash said, “They’ve been moved,” probably to take down the tree. “The whole area has been cleared.”

I wanted to sit down on that cold, soggy ground and cry, but I restrained myself. And then I wanted to scream – “Why? Why? What have you done with my great-grandmother?” Then I remembered – “Don’t get mad, get even.” And that’s precisely what I intend to do.

Stay tuned for details.


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