Nearly 50 years have passed since I first discovered I was attracted to old cemeteries. Driving down a dirt road on our way to a retreat in N. C., I spied gravestones nestled among the pines and oaks and we stopped to investigate. I loved the overwhelming sense of connecting with the past – with hidden history. Not just bodies rested beneath the earth, but the stories connected with those lives.
Years later, I read aloud several of Eugenia Price’s historical books as we experienced long road trips with our four children. Her books led to a quest to visit the graveyard on St Simon’s Island, Georgia. We took a memorable drive to see that fascinating graveyard and charming old church which she described.
I became hooked on old cemeteries. On the island of Antigua, we uncovered hidden grave stones at the site of Bridgetown and created rubbings from some of the large flat memorials that laid buried under dirt and debris. Our footsteps have since walked among many aging headstones in a number of states, and in several countries.
This Christmas we spent a delightful time in Malaysia with our daughter and her family. I keep trying to single out a favorite day from our trip. Perhaps the memory that shines best is the quiet Sunday afternoon spent in Georgetown, wandering among some of the 500 graves in the Old Protestant Cemetery, established in 1786. These people no longer have a voice, but history oozes from the earth and hangs dripping from the trees and vines that surround the large, ornate tombstones. We strolled around reading names and dates, soaked in the serenity – contemplating our own mortality. The tombstones there in Penang represented governors, lawyers, merchants, army personnel. Most people in the 1800’s in Malaysia failed to achieve age fifty. Many died as children or only survived to their twenties.
When only age nine, I delighted in the movie “The King and I.” I did not realize then that real people had been the basis for that story. There in Georgetown we stood by the grave of Anna’s husband, Thomas Leonowens. He died at age thirty-one. Anna, born in India in 1831, was a mere twenty-eight when he died. Needing employment, she traveled to Singapore with her two children and established herself as an educator for the children of British officers. Three years later, she accepted an offer to teach the thirty-nine wives and eighty-two children of the King of Siam. Hollywood portrayed her story (based on her journals), with a good deal of historical license. I stood there in Malaysia, by Leonowens tomb, wondering about the life of this hotel-keeper who died in 1859, thankful his gutsy wife recorded her memories from Siam. I mused what Hollywood might do to Elsie’s story were it (pipe dream) to be made into a movie!
On our return from Asia, jet-lag and the flu forced me to wrap in a blanket, with tea and a marvelous new book , “The Mark of the King” by Jocelyn Green. This exciting historical fiction based on an 18th century French colony in Louisiana assisted my recovery. Thanks, Jocelyn for the delightful diversion from Kleenex and cough syrup. Her research uncovered a story I found fascinating; her writing wrapped me in another era.
Now I am back at work researching and writing historical fiction about Antigua in the late 1700’s. Thanks, Carin, for the moments we squeezed in to consult on this work-in-progress. Thanks for warm memories and delightful days spent with you in Malaysia.
On January 22, to celebrate Elsie’s 129th birthday, her story “Elsie’s Mountain” will be free, that day only, on Amazon as an e-book. So, if you have not yet read the sequel to Elsie’s Arizona story, here is a one day opportunity to grab it for free. I am thrilled that after four years her Arizona story is still selling and has 329 Amazon reviews. Thanks, friends.