Today has certainly been a bit different to a usual Friday. My cousin Paul flew in from his home in Saudi Arabia for his father’s birthday, and expressed an interest in finding our grandmother’s grave and tidying it up after 49 years of neglect. He had never known Elsie, who had died in 1967, the year he was born. My mother had long ago given me a little black-edged card with details of Elsie’s grave number and address of the cemetery on it, and Paul and I both felt the time was right to pay our respects. Sam was still on annual leave from our festival trip and offered to undertake the 2 hour drive, as after 25 years of living in Suffolk I baulk somewhat at facing new London motorways and busy roads which I have never driven on before. I quickly took him up on his offer.
Paul hired a car at the airport and said he would meet us at the cemetery. He had every faith that I would find the grave, having been there once for Elsie’s funeral! I remember the East London Cemetery being huge as a child, with graves stretching out far and wide to the horizon. I’m afraid that I could not hold out the same hope.
Sam and I, armed with a spade, fork and trowel, arrived at the cemetery for the makeover, and I sighed with the futility of trying to find a grave amongst thousands and thousands of others. As we parked the car there was a groundsman walking towards us, so I opened the car door and showed him the card. To my utter surprise he nodded and said he knew the area where the grave number could be located. We followed him on a road branching left from the main entrance.
I remembered that Elsie had been buried in a double grave with an unrelated person (it was cheaper then), and I knew to look for two tombstones, one at either end. I searched around, but within minutes Mike the groundsman had already found the spot, going on the number of the grave next door, as now there only seemed to be a patch of grass where Elsie had been buried.
I mentioned to Mike that I remembered seeing two tombstones on the grave. Mike nodded sagely and replied that the ground had been ‘made up’ over the preceding years, and that probably the tombstones had broken up and been unintentionally buried. He told me that if he’d had a spade with him then he could have dug it up, as he was certain that Elsie’s tombstone was under our feet.
Sam produced a spade from the boot, and Mike dug down until the shovel hit something hard. I wondered with a momentary panic if we had hit Elsie’s coffin, but to my amazement up came my grandmother’s tombstone, covered in mud, but with the inscription still partly visible. Mike then wandered off to a mountain of grave detritus that had built up over the years in a pile at the back of the cemetery. He waved Sam over, and they returned carrying a concrete frame. He then informed us of the nearest shop where we could purchase decorative pebbles, paint, and plants. We gave Mike £10 for his trouble, and looked at each other and grinned.
By now Paul had arrived, and we drove back out into the high street and returned with Postcrete to cement in the headstone, a bucket for water, pebbles, white paint for the frame, and a sponge and brush to clean up the headstone and a variety of plants.
Elsie’s grave had never looked so beautiful when we had finished. I’m sure she had sent Mike to help us, and was overseeing our efforts from above. Carry on resting in peace Elsie, you now have the best looking grave in the cemetery!