When it comes to doing business with family, the rule of thumb is don’t. But here is a design and copywriting project for which I was not only happy to throw rules to the wind, I was downright proud doing so. Along with this comes a story, so sit yourselves down and pour up a glass of wine.
Back in the early 1970s, my mother-in-law telephoned her township chairman about the poor state of affairs at the Watertown Township Union Cemetery. Her concern was for an overgrown acre of land a mile up the road from their farm. With gravestones dating back to the mid-1800s, it was a historical memorial of the surrounding community.
As a result of that phone call, my father-in-law became the cemetery’s official curator. He passed along an ever-so-slight compensation to his 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son (my husband) for diligently pushing their lawnmowers up to the cemetery, mowing, trimming, and then pushing them back home again.
Little did my in-laws know this would become a perpetual labor of love. In fact, here it is forty years later and they still manage the cemetery. Together with their children and grandchildren, they mow, maintain, arrange burials, do the occasional fill-in-the-grave-by-hand and host an annual Friends of Union Cemetery meeting. They do all this with great care and dedication.
Each year my now 82-year-old father-in-law talks of turning the position over to his children. We’ll happily oblige. But when asked if he’s really ready to retire, he always decides to keep at it another year. There’s some hardy Wisconsin farm blood, for ya.
That’s the personal side of this story.
Here’s the civic side: Throughout the U.S., rural cemeteries are falling by the wayside. They’re abandoned, vandalized and forgotten. Most no longer have formal organizations that share an interest in their care. Those that do are non-profits limping along with treasuries barely covering the gas to mow.
The Friends of Union Cemetery don’t want this to happen. Nope, not to our little sanctuary up on the hill. Thankfully we have pro-active energy and connoisseurs of wine within our midst!
Are you in the Watertown area? Stop by on March 8 for some flavorful wine and hors d’oeuvres!