Most of the summer was too hot for even short hunts. I could sneak in a little one here or there, but my overly-ambitious effort on a steamy July 4th at a large cemetery in Desoto pretty much knocked me off my game for a while. It wasn’t supposed to be a huge deal, findagrave reported the cemetery only had five hundred internments, that number turned out to be only a fraction of reality. I found a few, then quit after only covering half the enormous field. I was covered in sweat, weak and sore from overestimating my physical capacity.
Now that the weather has cooled, and the fact that October is my favorite month of the year I felt motivated again to get outside and enjoy the search once again.
October is my favorite, not just because it’s cooler, but more so because of the lower angle of the sun. Most of my favorite photographs were taken in October, colors sharp, blue skies bluer and the air, clearer.
I had a couple of new requests in Hillsboro so I decided to go local first, to get back into the swing. There were a couple of older requests that I hadn’t been able to find the last time, so I expanded my list to four and decided to make a full-grid, row-by-row search.
The weather was perfect on this early Sunday afternoon. I started in the northwest corner where most of the older graves are located. About halfway through that section another car pulled into the cemetery and stopped just inside the center gate. A lady, of at least retirement age, stepped out with a modest bouquet of faux-flowers in her hand. This is of course, not uncommon. I made an effort to keep my distance out of respect. I went on about my business. I noticed her again about five minutes later in the northeast section, then several minutes later in the southeast. As my search was moving south we passed, she smiled and greeted me the way strangers do when they meet each other in cemeteries. A smile, but not too big of one. A few minutes later I looked up and she was heading right toward me, the flowers still in her hand.
“I wish they had maps of this place.” She said.
“It certainly would make things go quicker.” I answered, as I was getting frustrated myself after an hour or so and only having found one of the four possible graves. I almost added “But that would take all the fun out of it.” But decided against it as it might have seemed in bad taste.
“Well, if you really need a map, Matt Woods, the insurance guy, may have one. He’s one of the caretakers.” I offered. I met Matt back in the spring on volunteer cleanup day (see previous posts)
“I know Matt, I had him in Kindergarten.” She replied.
“Yeah, he’s a good boy.” She then went on telling me about the history of stewardship of the cemetery and even pointed out where the late congressman Bill Emerson was buried. She quickly proved to me she knew quite a bit about quite a few of the people of Hillsboro. I asked her the name of the person she was searching for, she answered “Huskey, Chris Huskey.” A very common surname in this cemetery. I told her I’d keep an eye open as I continued my own search. She headed down the hill a bit and I paced a couple more rows until I realized that the names I were looking for had eluded me before and that I had now, right in front of me a new name for the list. It didn’t matter that it was not for findagrave, I decided, I am a cemetery searcher, a volunteer grave finder with hundreds of successful finds under my belt. So I cancelled my list search and headed to the areas that more likely fit the description she had provided. She had said that he was buried less than a year before, which led me to stop looking at stones alone, and at the ground itself. Less than a year after burial meant that most likely the soil had not had a chance to settle and grass-over completely. There’s hundreds of graves in the cemetery, but not that many newer ones. I also considered the possibility that no stone had been erected, which would be bad news as the life span of those temporary, metal funeral home markers is pretty short, I’ve seen several mangled ones that had been chewed up and spit out by industrial mowers. But she had said that he was buried next to his grandparents, also Huskey’s. So all I really needed to do was find a Huskey grave with a fresh plot near it.
We crossed paths a couple more times, I was doing a three-four row quick-search, she was just sort of wandering around. At one point she made a phone call, but didn’t seem to have learned anything useful.
I found it.
Fairly fresh grave, covered with squares of turf that hadn’t quite filled in together, with a shiny, fresh stone.
|Christopher Michael Huskey October 2 1981 – February 18, 2011.|
October 2, 1981. This would have been his thirtieth birthday. A kid.
Beneath the name and dates were etched a musical staff with a treble clef and couple of musical notes, underneath that were the words: “Every rose has its thorn”
I recognized the words as the title of a late 80’s power ballad by the band ‘Poison’. I assumed that Chris had been a fan of music, and maybe that song in particular.
I called out to the lady, waved and got her attention. As I waited I snapped a couple of pictures then looked around. There was no stone for Sam and Anita Huskey as the lady had said there would be, this only punctuated the fact that not all clues in these hunts are accurate. People’s memories sometimes simply fill in gaps with plausibilities. She had mentioned that at the time of the funeral, she had stayed back at the church while the family and friends attended the burial, which explained why she did not know its exact location and was going by what the family had told her a while back.
She stepped up to the grave and laid the bundle of plastic flowers at the headstone. She stepped back, I let her have her time uninterrupted.
“So sad” she sighed.
“So young.” I responded, “I don’t recall really living until I was older than that.”
She shook her head. “Too young.” She answered, “and so sad that he took his own life.” Her voice trembled a little.
My heart sunk into my belly. I had no idea what to say. There was a truly sad story here, a recent, very tragic story and my insane reflex for irony, dark humor and making jokes when uncomfortable needed to be suppressed, so I said nothing at all.
She didn’t offer any more details about the circumstances surrounding his death, I figured if she wanted or needed to, she would. Grief is a powerful emotion, it manifests itself in millions of ways. She seemed quiet, a bit sad, but not overwhelmingly so. She did go on to tell me that he too was a former student of hers and that she was there on behalf of his parents. “This is the first birthday since he died, his folks couldn’t handle visiting themselves, they went to California to visit his brother instead.”
“I understand.” I answered, because I did.
She looked up and smiled. “I didn’t mean to take you away from what you were doing.” She apologized.
I explained to her what I was doing and that it was no problem at all, glad to be able to help.
I didn’t know how she would react to my hobby, some people actually see it as an intrusion, a defacement, even ‘trespassing for personal gain’. People can be quite sensitive about death and cemeteries. This is why I try to avoid people when I’m on a search. I don’t want to rile them up in their time of grief. Fortunately, she was not one of those. “Well, that’s a really nice thing you do.” She said with a look of genuineness, and the kind, patient, caring eyes of a kindergarten teacher.
“Thanks you very much for helping me find it, I was about to give up.” She added.
“It’s not a problem ma’am, it’s what I do.”
We left our separate ways, her with the satisfaction of appropriately commemorating the tragic passing of a young man on behalf of his grieving parents, I, with enough good-deed contentment to last me several days or maybe even weeks.
I got home and fired up the laptop and uploaded the photos. His name was already in the system but there were no pictures. I fixed that. Whoever had created his memorial had included an obituary:
“Christopher Michael Huskey, age 29, of Hillsboro Missouri, passed away on February 18, 2011. He was born October 2, 1981 in St. Louis, Missouri. Chris was an Electronic Technician at Midwest Associates of Hillsboro Missouri, student at Jefferson College and a member of the Fire Box Band. Survived by Wife- Christa J. Huskey of Hillsboro Missouri. Son-Timothy Michael Davidson of Fenton Missouri. . .”
I still don’t know quite what to make of it. I have no idea what caused him so much pain and anguish. I can only imagine that borne by his family, his child, his wife, his parents. Only time will help with the healing, I am told, though most likely it will never completely heal. The death of a loved one leaves a permanent scar on the loved ones. A tragedy such as this, a much deeper and more jagged one. So many questions, so many unknowns. So much promise, so much potential, so much life unfulfilled.