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To encourage and support the preservation, maintenance, and study of Maine's old cemeteries and their records.

Speakers: Sharing the MOCA Story

There are several members in the organization who are willing to speak to other organizations on MOCA:  how it began, its purpose, and how it is meeting its goals and expectations.  MOCA is interested in motivating others to preserve the gravestones and record the information that is fast disappearing.

The following was part of Dr. Jean Hankins presentation at the MOCA meeting in Otisfield, ME on Saturday, September 28, 2013. It was written in August 1999 by her daughter, Janet Gastil. Dr. Hankins gave us permission to share this part of her presentation.

My Mother

In long slow summer days my mother would load her four children and her light blur three ring binder into the VW bus and head out to an abandoned cemetery.  She would sit erect over the steering wheel as she wrestled the bus down some washed out dirt road, dodging ruts as the green branches closed in on either side. We never quite got stuck, although once she had to back out a mile and a half because there was no way to turn around.

At the cemetery Mom would crouch over the old fallen stones, deciphering the worn text, meticulously recording all the information in her binder.  Her small form was surrounded by long grass, her strong brown hands traced the inscriptions.  She was perfectly focused and perfectly at home, in the company of the town ancestors and encroaching trees.

We four children would treasure hunt for hidden stones.  With age they would tilt, fall, break and disappear in the weeds and brush.  Sometimes they would remain upright, but sunken deep in the soft soil.  “Mom, over here!  This one was a soldier!”  “Mom, this one's in five pieces! Should we try to put it together?”  The same names kept repeating, Scribners and Kemps, Elizabeths and Johns.  Beloved wife, dearest son.  Many of the small stones had no name simply “Infant” and a single date, birth and death both.

My mother recorded them all.  “This is history,” she would say to us.  “This will all be lost if no one preserves it.”  The expensive but soft marble stones were often eroded too badly to read.  The speckled granite stones were also worn and covered with faded green lichen.  Mom would pull out a large sheet of paper, hold it against the stone, and rub a red crayon hard over it.  Magically, words would appear.  My mother entered them all in her binder.

We four children soon tired of the work and engaged in acorn battles.  We searched among the graves for tiny wild strawberries, intense red blasts of flavor.  Sometimes there would be blueberries, dark blue dusty globes hidden under smooth oval leaves.  We would lie on our backs under rustling birches and swipe at the whining diving stabbing mosquitoes.  My mother would continue her steady progress, her gray-blue eyes peering intently through her glasses.

After a few hours, we children got restless.  Mom would load us back into the VW and maneuver us out to civilization.  That night we would fall asleep to the hum and rapid clatter as she typed up all her notes.  She recorded all the old cemeteries in town this way, catching history before it vanished into the wild.


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