I don’t recall much about my first day of elementary school back in Edmonton, Alberta — only what my mom tells me I did. But starting anything new always feels the same to me, so I thought I’d describe my first day at cemetery school, which I can clearly remember. That’s right. I recently enrolled in cemetery school.
I had decided that my next challenge would be to write a mystery novel. And what better place to set a mystery novel than a cemetery? But not just any cemetery — a historic cemetery. The thing is that, even as a fiction writer, I had to get my facts straight. And I knew absolutely nothing about cemeteries. So I did what many people do when they want to learn something new: I looked things up on the internet; I signed out lots of books from my public library; and I found an organization called the Association of Gravestone Studies that offered to teach me everything I’d ever want to know about old graveyards.
Here’s what I read on their website: The Association for Gravestone Studies was founded in 1977 for the purpose of furthering the study and preservation of gravestones. It is an international organization with an interest in gravestones of all periods and styles. It promotes the study of gravestones from historical and artistic perspectives, expands public awareness of the significance of historic gravestones, and encourages individuals and groups to record and preserve gravestones. An annual conference, held in June, features lectures, guided cemetery tours, slide presentations, exhibits, classes, and documentation and conservation workshops.
Wow! What fun! Sign me up!
So, here’s lesson one: starting school often begins with an initial sense of excitement.
Then, as I packed to go, dark thoughts started to creep in. What should I wear? Surely not all black! Would I actually enjoy tramping around lumpy old cemeteries in 30-plus degree weather? Would I like the other students, even make new friends? Would some of the teachers turn out to be ghosts, vampires or zombies?
So, here’s lesson two: starting school can be worrisome, even frightening. That’s natural.
Then my first day at school arrived. As I sat down in the classroom, I was happy to see that nobody wore black, but quite a few — a surprising number, actually — wore t-shirts with skulls and crossbones. Still, in every other way, they were just like me. And I did make friends. And I learned a lot about caring for these rich heritage places. And now that cemetery school is over, I miss it very much.
And that brings me to lesson three: your school won’t feel new for long, so be sure to enjoy it. My favorite symbol at the cemetery is the hourglass tilted on its side. It reminds us that time goes by very quickly. It’s over before you know it. Just ask anyone at the cemetery.
Jessica Scott Kerrin is the author of the newly launched Lobster Chronicles series and the best-selling Martin Bridge series. She lives surrounded by historic cemeteries in downtown Halifax, Canada. Her latest book The Spotted Dog Last Seen includes a secret code for you to decipher!
Watch for back-to-school blog posts from Groundwood authors running from August 15th – September 15th. Everyone at Groundwood hopes that this school year will bring you lots of surprises.