A DANCE IN A GRAVEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

The year I was fifteen, I started my senior year of high school. That September (1962), while I was sitting and watching television, I found a rather big, hard lump near my right ankle. I checked the other leg. No lump there. It was a painless lump. Mom had me visiting a surgeon just a couple of days later.

It turned out to be non-malignant, an osteochondroma. It was, however, pretty big. Big enough so in the short time between seeing the doctor and getting into the hospital, it more than doubled in size.

It had thoroughly wrapped itself around my fibula and the surgeon had to remove a piece of bone and replace it with a pin. I was in no mortal danger, but I was going to be on crutches for at least half a year.

Jamaica High School was (is) huge. Five stories including the basement (swimming pool level) and top floor — the tower where the choir and chorus rehearsed. There were no elevators. No handicapped access. It was also extremely crowded, no place for someone on crutches.

High School, really

Thus I came to be assigned a home tutor. I was not her only client and for reasons of her own, she decided to introduce me to another of her clients.

Mary was older than me, 18 years old. Which, at 15, seemed very mature from my perspective. She was a schizophrenic at a time when the drugs to control schizophrenia had not been invented. She was not at all violent. In fact, she was wonderfully sweet, a brilliant artist … and her view of the world was, to say the least, unique.

She loved cemeteries. Especially at night. One night, we went to see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which had just been released.

“Would you like to go?” she asked.

“Sure, why not.” I was always up for a movie. But this one, I didn’t much like. I still don’t. Just … not my cup of tea. Too creepy.

But my night of creepiness was far from over because, after the movie, Mary invited me to visit one of her favorite places … the local cemetery. Through which she happily danced, kissing each of the stones while declaring that these were the happiest of all souls.

Thus began my interest in cemeteries and tombstones. And the end of my brief relationship with Mary. I’m pretty strange in my own way, but that was a bit much for me.

We have great cemeteries here in New England. Old ones with wonderful tombstones, amazing old inscriptions. Come visit.

22 thoughts on “A DANCE IN A GRAVEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. I share your fascination with graveyards and the tombstones which seem to always have something interesting to ‘say’. In Salt Lake there is an annual “ghost” tour around this time of year and I notice they’ve added one tour wholly devoted to the Salt Lake City Cemetery – which is huge and has so much history and legend associated with it. Sadly for me it’s a ‘walking’ tour, so I couldn’t begin to do it. But it sounds really really good. I’m sure all that pales in comparison to what New England offers in the way of graveyards and stones. So much history there! How wonderful for you! 🙂


    • We have some really old ones in New England. Some of the inscriptions are funny, others thoughtful. But interesting. And UNIQUE.

      I did my walking tours years ago when I still could walk. I couldn’t do it now. I am SO glad I did everything I could when I was still able to do it!


  2. When our children were younger we took them to a cemetery (I don’t remember the occasion) and they were horsing around as usual. To my horror they almost toppled a tomb stone. I was surprised that the stones weren’t more solidly positioned.


  3. We have some great cemeteries here filled with the famous and infamous of the 19th and 20th centuries. We could even head out to a nearby suburb to see Alphonse Capone. I guess he does not get many visitors anymore.


    • She was a schizophrenic. She was also a very VERY talented artist — drawing and painting. She was also extremely bright, but she had — for obvious reasons — difficulty finding friends. I think if I’d been a little older — I was only 15 at the time — I might have done it. She spoke in poetry and she had grown up in India and swore she could hear the snarl of the Big Cats at night. I was too young. I wish I knew her now. I think night walks through old cemeteries would suit me fine at age 72. At 15? I was not quite ready for her world — and she really DID have her own, private world.


    • Buy a camera. Not only is it the ONE hobby that can and will last you an entire lifetime, even if you have to do it from a wheelchair … or for that matter, seated on a park bench (I do a lot of shooting from a well-placed bench) — it’s deeply satisfying. And cameras — even very good ones — have come down in price. You can get buy a fine camera for very little money. If you have someone who knows a bit and can help you choose and go with you, you can get superb, top-quality camera second-hand that I swear has never been used at all. It’s a great hobby for those of us who can’t move well. Or barely at all.


  4. What an interesting experience, on so many levels. Benign tumor, surgery, schizophrenic associate. That changes one’s senior year. I’ve never been a big movie fan, and that genre I leave completely alone. Not good for my nervous system.


  5. I also didn’t care for that movie, Marilyn, which made me feel too “icky,” for lack of a better word. Interesting experience with Mary! I grew up within walking distance of a cemetery, and we used to go there sometimes to play. It was near the river and I remember how lily-of-the-valley covered the hill leading toward the water. We only went during the day, of course, which was much different than your experience!


  6. If we ever meet, which is most unlikely, let’s go on a cemetery tour together – at night of course. On the other hand we might meet one day, but am not sure on which side. At least we will have something to look forward to.


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