I promised my 90-year old uncle that I would look into upkeep issues at the family cemetery plot. He didn't like the looks of the family headstone. The marker was a bit weathered and he wanted it cleaned.
He said, "If I'm going to be laying near that thing I want it to shine." He says this as he stamps his foot on the grass where his grave will be dug. "I'm going to be right here. See how close I am to it?"
The plot has been used since the 1960s. My grandparents are there, my parents are there, a few cousins and eventually my aunt and uncle will be there. It's a sad looking place about a 2-hour drive from where I live. I try to go out once a year, usually to accompany my uncle.
Each time we plan to visit the cemetery together I tell him I'm only going in if he promises to also come out. I'm not sure he gets the gallows humor.
I'm quite sure I won't visit the cemetery too often after my uncle dies. I certainly will not be buried there. There's no room for one thing, but I think it's the giant landfill off in the distance that makes the place really unappealing. Perhaps, that's why my uncle insists on trying to beautify something in his control.
The great thing about cemeteries is that many of the supporting services are typically nearby. The flower shop, the guy who sells grave blankets (not sure what those are), a diner, and, of course, the monument maker.
I got the number of a storefront that had the nicest display of headstones. I'm not sure how else you pick these guys out.
I called a couple of days later and was greeted by a cheerful voice. "Hello! Morty's Mausoleums and Stone Cutting. How may I help you today?"
I suppose every time the phone rings at one of these places, it means they have a good chance of a sale. I'm sure most people call out of desperation and just want to check off this part of the grieving process, so they go with the first place they reach. I mean who really wants to spend a lot of time shopping around for this stuff.
I told the vivacious greeter I neede a family headstone cleaned. That's when the tone changed: "It's the middle of the winter. You gotta call back in the spring. Louie takes care of that stuff and he's out. He's the only one who can give a quote."
Wow, I found a specialist. This guy Louie must really know the ropes. I gave the person my name and plot location, and then asked: "You CAN clean headstones, right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Louie acid washes them. Cleans the dirt right off."
"And are the chemicals harmful to the ground?"
"No one's complained yet."
I figured I would not tell my uncle how they clean the stone, just that I took care of it. I thanked the person on the phone and before he hung up the sunny voice reappeared: "Have a happy and healthy!"
"You, too," I said in knee-jerk response. And then I thought how strange it was to be wished such a greeting from such a place.