|A very old cemetery in Missouri where some of my ancestors lie. My mother's maiden name is Coleman.|
I love talking about different kinds of writing with students, and offering different experiences. No matter what kind of writing we discuss, we seem to end up ‘telling stories.
My school is near a beautiful cemetery. Many visit there for various reasons. Groups may have a tree tour to learn about and visit the numerous examples of tall, mature trees that grow there. The place is very old, and they can study history there, visit some of the tombstones of famous people who have lived in this area and marvel at their monuments, their places of rest. There is a tour dedicated to distinguished Colorado women. People bike on the numerous paths through the grounds.
I have taken my class there to write, to be inspired by the stories that close examination of dates and names show. For example, there is a part of the cemetery showing quite a few deaths with whole families buried together. When we researched the dates, we realized it was during a major flu epidemic of long ago.
There we might find beautiful poetry carved into the stones in memory of a mother and child who didn’t survive the child’s birth. We have learned that there are many kinds of symbols that are meaningful. Birds mean eternal life, while butterflies signify short life. A full-blown rose means the deceased died in the prime of life and a morning glory means the beginning of life. We were given a handout that showed many of these symbols. There is a quote on the handout that says “Remember Me As You Pass By”. With those words, the class learned to treat the place with respect, as a place of peace and one of history. With permission, we were able to make gravestone rubbings.
The trip is a full day of learning, and the goal is to start students thinking about people in the past, people who have led full lives just as we do, only in different times. We brainstorm and share both our imaginings and our questions. We take notes, and then write. Mostly this is a free-writing session, an experience of capturing observations and imagining the people, perhaps even creating a fictional character.
I realize there can be mixed feelings about a cemetery, but with conversation before the trip, and talking through those feelings, we are able to have a fine day in a beautiful place, a day that removes some of the scary (to some) aspects that students think about cemeteries. Visiting also brings up memories, and then conversation, of some of the students of their own experiences of death and visiting gravesites. It’s a good day trip that adds to students’ writing from varied ideas and memories.