I love this definition for what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say “an attraction to” rather “an abnormal attraction to”. Which means there is a normal attraction, and that would be me. I’ve loved visiting cemeteries since childhood, not for some morbid fixation, but more from a historical perspective. I often visit local cemeteries when traveling to other states or countries, and while many would prefer not to live next door to a cemetery, I consider it a bonus.I’m not completely fearless, and I can get easily creeped out at night, but I credit my general lack of fear to my grandmothers. Both lived in what I considered “the country” where there wasn’t much going on, and both lived practically next door to a cemetery full of who knows what to explore. For my grandmothers, visiting a cemetery was like visiting a park where we might enjoy a picnic or leave flowers for family members I never knew.
My younger brother and I grew up in Atlanta during the 70’s but spent summers and holidays in the country visiting my grandparents in rural Madison County just outside of Huntsville, Alabama. With only three TV networks and no concept of computers or cell phones, we were lucky to have overactive imaginations and five younger cousins to play with.
Day or night, one of our favorite adventures was investigating the cemetery. Adult supervision was not necessary back then so the oldest kid was in charge. We would read the names of the deceased aloud, make connections to nearby relatives and do the math figuring out how old people were when they died. Being kids, we were equally fascinated and freaked out by the tiny, baby tombstones topped with a little lamb or baby angel.
On one particular visit to the country, my cousin Stephanie, who was only about four or five years old at the time, told us of a family cemetery visit where she swore she saw a headless man with a bloody neck. Upon hearing this tall tale, my brother and I simultaneously got an evil Grinchy thought. I was the oldest, with my brother next in line, so we saw it as our duty to scare the life out of our younger cousins. We dug through closets of old clothes to find a long, black overcoat which we buttoned up over by brother’s head. He ran off to hide in the cemetery while I suggested to our cousins that we take a walk. The walk lead us to the cemetery, and all was status quo until the headless man stepped out from behind a tree sending kids screaming bloody murder in all directions. I will never forget observing all this taking place, thinking how funny it was until I saw the look of terror on their little faces. We had gone too far and I felt terrible. Knowing a headless man sighting of this magnitude would mark the end of any future cemetery adventures, we fessed up fast. Luckily, the headless man incident became a treasured family story.
Even as adults, when we are all together we often walk to the cemetery with my cousins’ children joining the pack. When Stephanie and her sister Jennifer had kids around the age of four or five, my adult brother and I joked about giving their kids the headless man treatment. I wasn’t surprised a bit when their response was “oh yes, you must, it’s a family tradition”. I have no doubt that my cousins’ grandchildren will get the headless man treatment as well. Yes, it is a mean thing to do to kids; however, we all survived and we all love this creepy family tradition.
Halloween is my favorite holiday, and even though I don’t have kids, I build a cemetery in the front yard for my inner child and the neighborhood kids. This year I’ll be toasting my cousins and the headless man with cocktails inspired by Halloween candy.