"Where do you think you live?" he laughed.
So, before most people had arrived at work this morning, I pulled up to the neighborhood 7-11 and cheerfully bought the big ol' bottle of Heineken while trying to appear as if I wasn't the type of person who needed a beer before breakfast. And I bought the .99 cent bottle opener since I forgot that little detail. I then headed up the 405 to the Inglewood Park Cemetery.
I've traveled 3,000 miles to visit my the grave of my grandmother Rose, and her sisters Mary and Hannah, and her mother Hannah, but I still hadn't visited the grave of her brother Gerry Towle, who rests right up the street from me in Inglewood. 52 miles from door to headstone and I hadn't yet made the trip. And if I owe anyone a cemetery visit, it's Gerry Towle. I've been through so much with this guy. He's been a challenge from the start, but if not for the time I devoted to unraveling him, I wouldn't have come across all these terrific Towle, Pratt, Birdsall, and O'Connell cousins. I just wouldn't have been that naturally motivated. Every time I'd hit another brickwall with him, I'd just get all the more determined. The frustration brought the determination, and the determination brought the people, the pictures, and the family stories. You could say that Gerry Towle has been something of a genealogical personal trainer for me; mercilessly tough but I'm a much better genealogist because of him.
When planning the field trip, it occurred to me that I owed him a little something more than the customary cemetery drop-by. Maybe I could bring some sort of gift? What do you sort of gift do you give a dead person? My great-uncle is definitely not the cemetery flowers type - this much I know. My cousin Mike Towle, Gerry's great-grandson has helped me along the journey; I thought it'd be nice if I could give him a little shout-out on the visit, too. With these things in mind, I decided that I'd perform the time honored, pour-out ceremony for Gerry on his behalf. I know Mike's favorite brand of beer; Heineken. It would be a ceremonial gift for the living and dead. Perfect.
By the time I arrived, my friend Teresa was waiting for me. She was there to see if she could find the graves of the original owners of her former boarding school house. She had spoken to the mortuary's secretary and the people she was looking for weren't there. We did have a couple of other graves to find for mutual a friend. Inglewood Park Cemetery is huge. Even with the maps that the clerk printed out, we had our work cut out for us. First stop, uncle Gerry.
Keeping true to form, Gerry was tough to find. Even with the help of one of the landscapers who was kind enough to stop and give us a hand, we weren't finding him. We fanned out a little and searched the general area where he was supposed to be. Getting more frustrated by the second, I said under my breath, "Come on Gerry. Tell me where you are." This isn't unusual cemetery dialog for me. Rarely do I find people in cemeteries easily and in desperation, I'll try just about anything. Petition the dead? Sure. Why not? It doesn't usually pay off but this time it did. I turned to my right. A headstone covered in pine needles, three graves down immediately caught my attention. I walked directly over to it, crouched down, and brushed away the needles. Voila. Gerry.
We couldn't do the ceremonial pour with the landscaper guy standing there so we went off to find other people. Among them, Gerry's wife Gertrude. She wasn't next to Gerry but was close by; about 15 yards and a couple of rows down. Unfortunately, the sun came out so I couldn't take a photo directly above the headstone without getting shadows.
Teresa and I would go look for a grave and then return to Gerry's section in hopes that the landscapers had left. They hadn't. One had started in mowing. He kept going back and forth while we stood there, waiting. By this time it was getting late and we both had kids to go pick up from school. We'd have to make a move. Now or never. I opened the trunk and pulled out the bottle of Heineken and crouching behind my car, opened it. I handed Teresa the camera and wrapped the bottle in my hoodie - her idea. We waited until the lawnmower man looped past Gerry's grave and headed in the other direction. We then made a beeline for the headstone. I pulled out the bottle of Heineken and started pouring. Teresa took the shot.
On behalf of my California Towles with love from your New England born niece. Cheers. And thank you.