Frequently we hear how unsettled, chaotic and well...just plain “noisy” the world around us is, especially in 2020! I want to share with you how on one beautiful Sunday, the noise stopped and returned to the wonderful familiarity of days before COVID and political unrest. On this day, in spite of the promise of rain and winds, people who were for the most part strangers, came together to do good.
Our group “Oaklawn Cemetery Family/Friends and Volunteers” gathered together on Nov. 15 for our last cleanup of the year (please check us out on Facebook to see what we do). Since the grounds have pretty much been neglected and entangled in nothing short of a legal circus, the cemetery sits waiting for a resolution to rescue it from its state of abandonment. But just as in our own individual yards, there is the endless weeding, mulching, mowing, planting, repairs, etc. to be done that simply can not wait.
During past cleanups, we have mustered six to 10 people to cover the almost 25 acres that is Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens. This however, would not be the case on this chilly November day. Instead, as what one can only describe as a “Hallmark moment,” I stood and watched as car after car came in, each filled with occupants answering our plea for volunteers. I felt as though I was watching a TV Christmas Special where everyone came together at the last moment to help save the town landmark!
We knew ahead of time there were a few people coming but we had no idea of the magnitude of the response to help that we were about to be gifted. There were so many if fact, we weren’t sure if there would be enough parking! As each pulled up, people enthusiastically piled out with rakes, shovels, weed-whackers, leaf blowers, and wheelbarrows. As I stood trying to take in the blessing unfolding in front of me, a truck also arrived pulling a trailer carrying a tractor and then another came with a zero turn mower! And still more cars drove through with occupants apologizing for previous commitments and/or health conditions not allowing them to stay but “wanting to help” nonetheless and donating baked goods, sandwiches, snacks and drinks at our volunteer tent. Much needed staples for all the helpful hands and big hearts that came to offer their time and labor.
The Gettysburg Marine Youth Group came, Boy Scout Troop 73 arrived, individuals of all ages gave up their Sunday to come out in the cold,many didn’t even have anyone laid to rest there! Might I add that we do a terrible injustice if we categorize all of our youth as “self-absorbed” because these young boys and girls were truly amazing! They were hard working and extremely respectful of not just the people they were working with, but also for the people who were laid to rest there.
We had someone who came from as far as Annapolis, Md. and yet another from the Selinsgrove area. Young, old, men, women, kids, all there to make a difference and make a difference they did! Each taking on the duties of raking mountains of fallen leaves, hauling wheelbarrows of donated mulch (6 yards!), some laboriously repositioning headstones that were sunken heavily to one side, making them tilt horribly. One stone was even found almost completely buried under grass!
The sense of community coming together was indisputable. As volunteers lovingly dropped to their knees to clean off headstones or bent backs to rake leaves, there were no social divisions, no politics, no skin color, no age difference, no differences in religious beliefs, no privileges (or lack of) of any kind as each made that solemn connection (one can’t help but feel) to the person whose name is inscribed on that stone lying at their feet. Yes, they have passed but they still matter to us all.
We were humbled to meet “Jackie’s Mom” who lost her daughter at the age of 31. She brought us homemade baked goods she had made for everyone. Later she told me, that she herself had to wait a few minutes before she could get out of her car as she tried to compose herself seeing so many, many people come together for the good of the cemetery. She admitted she had nearly stopped coming as the conditions there were so depressing it only made her visits there even harder. Now, the area is not only improved but there is a bench near her daughter where she can sit and pay her respects.
We were also privileged to meet an elderly gentleman named Clarence who lost his wife just last month, and does not have Facebook to see our scheduled events. He was paying his respects and had no idea what was going on but wanted to talk to someone to find out what he could do to help.
I want to thank all the individual donors and volunteers, far too many to mention who very generously donated food, a variety of supplies and most importantly their time. I want to also express my gratitude to the local businesses that helped us out throughout our last few cleanups. Greg Allen and Graphcom for the donation (and hanging) of a brand new sign on the front wall, replacing the very dated and worn letters previously there. The Beveled Edge for replacing the granite slab missing from the mausoleum covering the gaping hole that once exposed the hardware of a casket in that corner. Thank you to the Gettysburger for their donation of water, Hoss’s and Starbucks’s for the hot coffee, Panera for the bagels, Domino’s for pizza, Lowe’s for flags for our veterans, All Seasons Yard Work and Countryside Gardens for mulch, Precision Maintenance for cutting down and removing dead trees, Smith Septic for the porta potty for the day, the Farnsworth House for it’s multiple donations and the Gettysburg Times with their great coverage to help us get volunteers and donations. If I have missed anyone, I do apologize but please know we could not do what we do without your support.
As a community, we may not be able to change the world but we can make a difference if we work together. If we have learned nothing else from isolation and safe distancing in 2020, it is hopefully just how much we need each other now and in the future.
For those who are interested in helping our group in the Spring, please reach out to us through our Facebook group or by emailing me at Sleepyhollowghostwalks@comcast.net
Many thanks to everyone who helped make what we do possible. We do it for our loved ones, we do it together.