Last weekend, I visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in North Tarrytown, N.Y. (actually now the town of Sleepy Hollow, but it was called North Tarrytown when I grew up there). It is the place we laid my father's ashes a year ago this November. As bitter cold as it was last year when we held his memorial service (a year after his death), the stunning beauty of it won't escape my mind. On this visit, the same chilling wind started to blow the minute we stepped out of the car. My sister, niece and I were sure it was Dad displaying his discontent that we took him out of Florida. After much consideration (a year!), my sisters and I chose the family plot where lies his parents, sister, our unborn brother T.J. and a laundry list of relatives on both sides of the familia.
When I was looking at the photos I took both last year and this, I noticed how my camera roamed away from the family plot to the rows of headstones, the stone walls, the arching trees and the bridges and streams. Sitting at my laptop at my kitchen counter, I can look up to see a pastel drawing I did of a headstone from a New Orleans cemetery.
The overwhelming feeling I get in a cemetery is a deep-seeded connection to family. I find myself wandering the headstones looking for last names that are familiar. Perhaps it is some genetic predisposition from my Italian heritage and I am simply carrying out the annual tradition. Every November 1st and 2nd, Italians go in unison to the local cimitero to place chrysanthemum plants at the graves of their family members. This can be an all day event, depending on the number of relatives they have to visit. From what I've read, many of the tombs are architectural wonders, and all have a photo of the deceased.
My favorite cemeteries aside from Sleepy Hollow include the one in New Orleans where the movie Double Jeopardy with Ashley Judd was filmed. My description of the N.O. cemetery is old, French and kinda mysterious. Walking through it takes some dexterity, as the paths jutt with stone in a slightly less than symmetrical pattern. The uniqueness and oddity of this cemetary is that it is an above ground cemetery (yes the bodies are in the tombs above the ground not below). Another is one I love I came across in Simsbury, Connecticut the year my friend Christine was married. I'll never forget the grandeur of the center entrance that slopes up a long, luscious green path lined with some kind of juniper bushes from which rows to the left and right are perfectly spaced with headstones. Nestled in the center of a "Colonial" style village, it made me feel very patriotic.