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Grave Stories II

In 1989 I was working for my family's nursery business during the summer, as I would do through each of the summers during my time at UConn. One fine morning we had a burial at Old Church Cemetery. My dad sent me from the job site we were at back to the shop to fetch our small backhoe and some tools (shovel, rake, implement of destruction) and then motor over to the cemetery to close the grave after the service.

Click for larger imageI knew that the deceased was a retired Navy Commander, so I was interested to see a military funeral first hand. It got there with -- I thought -- plenty of time. Some friends of the family live next to the cemetery, so I parked the machine in their driveway. (We try to be discrete; the bereaved can be upset by signs of the 'mechanics' of interment, so this was a good spot -- close to the grave, yet screened from view by a line of red pines on the cemetery's edge). I saw an Army Lieutenant with five Sergeants standing in a loose line with their M16s, and an Air Force bugler. Then I spotted several flower arrangements at the graveside.

This was not in order. The flowers show up with the casket. I had an attack of doubt. Was I late? I should have been on-site with fifteen minutes to spare. Funerals are never early. But we might have the time wrong. And the flowers! Not knowing what the military practice was regarding burial -- specifically, do they have some rule where they stay until the grave is closed (or at least the lid is down on the vault)...?

There was only one way to be sure. I hopped down off my seat and walked on over. Now, bear in mind that I was dressed for summer landscape work -- t-shirt, shorts, work boots, John Deere hat. My line of travel took me past the firing squad on my way to the grave. As I passed them, I said over my shoulder "am I early, or am I late?" One of the Sergeants called back "Who are you, the grave digger?" I said "Yup." As I peered into the empty vault I heard the Lt. say behind me "So, you embarrassed yet Jonesy?!?!"

A few minutes later the funeral cortege arrived. The Navy Commander was laid to rest with his Army honor guard and Air Force bugler. After the service, the family departed with the minister. The vault guy appeared with his truck from his hiding spot at the bottom of the hill. I helped him with the vault cover and his "device" (that rectangular metal frame that holds the coffin and lowers it down into the vault). The honor guard shuffled off to their cars and I started pushing dirt...

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