It all started when we were preparing to move from Memphis to New Jersey. I was determined to tie up every loose end and prepare for every emergency prior to our departure. I sent off for our marriage license since the original was lost before we left for the honeymoon. Notarized copies of all our birth certificates as well as baptismal records were also secured.
There was only one remaining minor detail. I felt strongly that we needed to select funeral plots before we moved. I couldn’t face making that decision in grief. My husband didn’t see the urgency. No problem. I phoned my Great Granny Watts’ cousin down in Cedar Creek, Texas. He was the superintendent of the community cemetery. I learned we could have four at no cost because my family had donated part of the land for the cemetery.
The thought of spending eternity in Texas inspired my devout Tennessean spouse to consider plots in the local Catholic cemetery, and we toured the facility. The superintendent of the cemetery had a dark sense of humor and loved puns. When my husband remarked on the high cost of the plots, the superintendent replied, “Are you kidding? People are dying to get in here.”
We also learned that all vacant spaces in really old burial grounds are not truly empty; especially if they’re on an incline. Gravity pulls everything downhill. The headstones may be scattered across the hillside, but all the occupants are double and triple parked down at the bottom.
We finally settled on four plots not far from where his parents are buried. A man who had lived two doors up from us for 20 years was buried two plots over. It seemed an appropriate spot. At the time, I didn’t notice anything unusual about the surrounding headstones.
No one in the family gave the matter any further thought until two or three years later when we were all together in Memphis to celebrate Christmas. My husband took the children out to Calvary to put wreaths on his parents’ headstones, and Marie, the cemetery secretary, spilled the beans. Our plots were smack dab in the middle of the Irish gypsy section.
The Irish gypsies are a group of petty thieves who winter in the mid-south. They masquerade as itinerant house painters and specialize in swindling the elderly and naïve. The headstones in their section are huge and ornate. The women burn candles at the base of tombstones and drape them with strings of beads. They argue over the attentions of dead men.
“Well, there went the neighborhood.” My husband wasn’t about to put up with such nonsense, and immediately was on the phone in search of other available plots. And that, friends and neighbors, is how we were temporarily one of the largest land owners in Calvary Cemetery.