In early spring of 2007 I decided to quit my job, sell my house along with nearly everything else that I owned, and to live out of my car while traveling the country. These are my stories (and pictures) of life on the road.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

A few weeks ago, not long after getting back from my trip, I was driving around town and looking to get some exercise. I took a turn that led me up a steep hill on the edge of town to Oak Hill Cemetery. This is the neatest cemetery we have in town and contains the grave of some of the towns founders, including Esther Ridley, who the town (Estherville) was named after.

As I was walking through the cemetery I came across a couple graves that I'd seen a few years previous and that I'd taken a 4X5 polaroid of. I couldn't remember where that print was off hand and figured since I was armed with a camera that I'd take another shot of it. Just in case you can't read the head stones the one on the left says-


The one on the right reads-


What's the first thing that comes to your mind after looking at those two head stones? What circumstance did your mind jump to?

The first time I saw them I found it sad. Poor Otis Ray, nearly 25 years the elder of his wife, probably bought the plots which gave him piece of mind knowing that although he'd likely die long before her that one day she'd lie beside him again. For some reason though that didn't happen and now they were separated forever.

Then I started to wonder why she wasn't lying next to Otis Ray in the ground. I mean, judging from the dates on her head stone she'd be in the Guinness Book of World Records if she was still actually alive, so I think we can rule that option out.

Maybe Otis was an overbearing brute who suckered her into marrying him at a young age and forced her to grow up faster then she wanted. Otis could have been a paranoid and controlling husband who wouldn't let his pretty young wife out of his site for fear she might not come back. Before he died he made sure to buy the adjoining burial plots, his last attempt at controlling her fate. When he finally kicked off she was free for the first time in her life. After the initial shock and pseudo-mourning wore off she spread her wings and flew. Far, far away from the tiny town of Estherville and out to find her dreams. She traveled the world and went to see all the things that Otis would never have done, going wherever the winds blew her. When she died she asked to be cremated and her ashes were spread from one of those new fangled flying contraptions far over the ocean.

I suppose another option could be that Margaret was madly in love with Otis Ray and after his death she never really could come to terms with it. They'd never had much money and after paying to bury Otis and purchasing the adjoining plot there was no money left. She'd never had a job in her life and didn't know what to do. Maybe she was poverty stricken the rest of her life and forced to move in with relatives back on the East coast who she barely knew. She'd always been a little off in the head and it only got worse after Otis was gone. She didn't talk much to anybody and no one really knew about her previous life in Iowa with Otis. As she lay on her death bed the doctor couldn't make heads or tails of what she was mumbling; something about a berry and two people named Otis and Esther, neither of whom he'd ever heard of in the area. He gave her something for the pain and she slipped off to sleep for good. Three days later she was buried in a cemetery with no one else she knew. Only a few people came to the service and no one cried.

Or maybe Otis and Margaret had a happy life. They loved each other dearly and she cared for him as he got sick, right up until the day he died. She mourned for him deeply and she didn't think she'd ever recover from his death. She resined herself to being alone and miserable for the rest of her life. Gradually though her spirits began to rise and she ventured back out into the world. She became reacquainted with old friends and made new ones easily. She'd never been able to imagine life without Otis and two years after his death, though she still missed him greatly, she was surprised to find that she was truly happy.

She continued on with her life and found new things to live for. In a couple more years she met a man while volunteering at the church clothing drive. He was about her age and all day long they kept stealing glances at each other. They bumped into each other a few more times over the summer and one night at the Elk's club he asked her to dance. She felt very awkward at first but halfway through the song she relaxed and it felt good to be held in a mans arm's again. They began dating and after a year he asked her to marry him. She accepted and within 6 months they were married. They bought a small house just outside of town with a nice big porch and swing. They were too old to have children so it was up to them to keep each other entertained. It seemed the older they got the younger they felt. She'd chase him around the yard with the hose while watering the newly planted flowers in the spring and he'd sneak up and scare her while she was cooking in the kitchen.

While Margaret never forgot about Otis Ray she realized that that wasn't her life anymore. That she'd moved on and her new life was out here at the acreage with Brett. They both lived long and healthy lives, never leaving each others side for very long. When they were in their late 80's Brett passed away in the middle of the night unexpectedly; two months later Margaret followed him. They're buried in adjoining plots in a small cemetery in the country not far from their house, on the other side of town from Otis.

After leaving Otis' grave I continued walking around and saw something odd sticking out from under a couple leaves. I kicked back a couple of the dead oak leaves to reveal the corner of a grave; the rest was buried under the dirt. I began scraping the dirt off from the top and then went about digging all the dirt out of the lettering with a stick.

When I was done I found the head stone of Mary Ellen Sewcll - Age 7. I looked at the surrounding graves but found none of her family; she was the only one there. Seems sad, doesn't it? But is it? Is it really so sad to think about parents coming to terms with their loss and moving on with life; doing what they needed to do and being happy once again; even if it meant moving away from the child they were leaving behind?

And what does it really matter anyway? If you're a religious person then Otis, Margaret, and Brett are all up in heaven the best of friends. Well, unless Otis really was a butt head, which would mean he suffered a different fate. Mary Ellen was re-united with her parents and they're a big happy family again. They can barely remember the short time they spent on earth and the grief that they once felt. It was a small price to pay for what they have now.

And if you're not a religious person then there are just a bunch of dead, non-feeling, non-caring bodies lying in the ground that don't know or care what you do after they die.


Anonymous said...

Good piece of writing Alan
sort of puts everything in perspective as you point out.

The ones always make me sad are the old stones that have several children on it passing away at young ages followed perhaps by the wife. So much lonely and heartache written on those cold cold stones.

As jumbled up as the world is we are lucky to live in a time when the children have a better chance of living to adulthood.

Again, well written piece..

Tom Gebbie said...

You need to write more of this type of thing. I have found that your travel blog has become less interesting over time. I still read and enjoy them, but this type of thing is much more compelling and gripping.


Alan Gage said...

Thanks to both of you for the kind words, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Yes, I've been getting a little bit bored with the travel part of the blog lately too; mostly because I haven't been traveling!

At times I think of writing posts like this but don't because it doesn't really keep with the theme of the blog. I guess it's my blog though so I can do what I want with it. :)

R Gage said...

I did a little digging, if you google Oak Hill Cemetery Estherville you will come up with a registery for the cemetery with all it's guests listed by alphabet.

They have Mrs. Woodyard listed, she is shown to have passed on in 1981. She is listed as the wife of Otis Ray.

Now why isn't her name Ray? And is she buried somewhere else in the cemetary, or did they just not bother to chisel in her date of death?

Connie said...

This is my thought.... she married for the second time in her 40's but it was a huge mistake and grew to hate this man. Second hubby died and she did not want to be buried by him so she had a stone set by her first love/husband and planned to be buried there, but kept her married name to hubby number 2. It would not occur to her to change her married name. Low and behold she fell in love again and this time hubby number 3 outlived Margaret. No way was he going to bury her beside Otis Ray. Margaret was going to lie to rest beside her hubby number 3!!

Kim said...

Maybe it's a typo, but if you check it out you will find that Estherville was named for Esther "Ridley", not "Williams". She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery and if you follow the links to her obit you will find confirmation of this.

Alan Gage said...

Kim, you're absolutely right, I don't know what made me type Williams instead of Ridley. I edited the original post so it's now correct.


You've reached the end of the page but that's not the end of the stories. If you want to read more (and who wouldn't!?) then click on the archive links to the right hand side of the page. They're listed by month; the adventure starts in May.

The February archives aren't actually from this trip but are previous adventures I've had, which are worth reading as well.