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Cemeteries, growing up, death & life

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POSTED April 23, 2014 12:01 a.m.

I’d venture to say that I view cemeteries a bit differently than most people.

I used to play in one as a kid. A cemetery is also where my father died. And it is where I got a healthy perspective of why I am so fortunate.

After my dad Fred sold his share in Wyatt Hardware to his older brother Pershing he went to work as superintendent of the Lincoln Public Cemetery District. It consists of three cemeteries — Lincoln, Sheridan and Manzanita.

It was when he worked for the cemetery district that I spent the most time hanging around my dad. It was always on a Saturday. Part of his duties was to check on the cemeteries during the weekend to make sure there were no water well issues or other problems. Since Manzanita was a true rural cemetery — no grass or ground cover — the only time it was routinely checked was during his Saturday visits unless there was a burial.

As an 8-year-old, I got to tag along. It was a great time. I got to ride in a red 1963 Chevy C60 dump truck. It took an effort to climb into the cab. But once in, you sat high above practically everything else on the road. And since Ralph Nader was still a young whippersnapper seat belt use wasn’t yet mandatory.

That meant not only could I feel every bounce on the narrow washboard country roads north of Lincoln as we headed to Manzanita Cemetery but I’d occasionally bounce off the seat as we crossed paved over culverts and bridges spanning creeks.

The cemetery itself was in a cluster of oaks on a gently rolling hill. The hard soil dominated by clay had more than its fair share of Manzanita bushes and trees along with a liberal sprinkling of scrub and valley oaks.

While dad tended to his duties I was free to wander about and play. The only steadfast rule was not to be disrespectful and walk across graves. I spent countless hours playing in the portion of the cemetery yet to be used for graves, walking on the concrete and granite coping of various family plot groupings, and reading the names on headstones.

My cemetery excursions with dad were short lived. Eighteen months after he went to work for the cemetery district, he was using a riding lawnmower to cut the thick, mosquito infested grass of Lincoln Cemetery that borders the Auburn Ravine. It was then that he suffered a fatal heart attack collapsing, ironically, within 10 feet of where his mother Millie Wyatt was buried.

Dad wanted to be buried at Manzanita Cemetery as did my mom. A week or so after the funeral the permanent headstone had been put in place. I did not like it for it also had my mother’s name on it, “Verna Aldene Wyatt,” along with her birth date but no death date. It is not something you want to see as a 9-year-old that just lost one parent. Mom, though, explained it as simply being pragmatic. It was much less cheaper to tend to the gravestone now instead of later. It would be another 41 years before the death date was carved into the granite.

My mom’s mother Edna Towle passed away a year later.

It was during my mom’s weekly then monthly visits to Manzanita Cemetery that I learned a lot about my mom and her family history.

The reason mom preferred to be buried there was simple. From where she was eventually laid to rest you could see a 3,000-foot peak off on the northeast horizon across the Bear River in what was then the Spenceville Wildfire Area in Nevada County. At the base of that in an area that today looks like an overgrown hollow in West Virginia is where mom and seven siblings were raised on a working ranch.

During visits to the cemetery mom would talk about relatives that went before. Among them some of the earliest American settlers of California including one who was part of the three rescue parties that saved the survivors of the Donner Party. She also shared the stories of others who were buried at Manzanita and weren’t related to her. It was a rich, interwoven history of people — pioneers, prospectors,  farmers, ranchers, and neighbors — who were part of a large family community that had established Lincoln and the surrounding countryside. I also learned of who wasn’t buried there.

The great-grand uncle who swindled his brothers in a pioneer lumber company leaving them flat broke while he made his way to San Francisco, He perished in the aftermath of the Great Quake of 1906 not from the temblor or fire but from greed. He was among those in the Nob Hill area who rushed in after the fire had passed to retrieve cash they had locked in their home safes. He had opened the safe without it cooling down and he —along with a small fortune of cash — became the victim of spontaneous combustion.

I also learned that my mom’s father had abandoned his family at the depths of the Great Depression on the ranch leaving his wife with eight kids.

I also came to understand that people live in the hearts of those that they touch after they die. What is left at cemeteries are just the vessels.

I visited Manzanita Cemetery Saturday for the first time in eight years. The last time was when my mom was buried there.

The countryside is still virtually the same save for a few farmhouses with upgraded sidings and new outbuildings.

The other constant is life. It continues and it builds on those that went before.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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