Tennessee Found

J and I returned to Calvary and Bellefontaine Cemeteries yesterday to test J’s new camera by taking some photographs of the remaining snow.  If you follow my blog, you may recall us going there back on November 1st, 2008. You can read Part 1 of that trip here and view pics that I took at Bellefontaine.  And read Part 2 here with pics from Calvary. Note the vibrant and rich autumn colors in the photographs back then.  The cemeteries were definitely painted in a different light this trip.  AT 45 degrees, the atmosphere was pleasant.  Neither of us needed coats. The ground was barren in places that weren’t still covered in the snow from two weeks ago. I was captivated by dead leaves that had fallen on top of the snow, and the footprint they created from where the snow had melted around them, lowering them to the ground just inches into the snow. In most bends shielded from the sun, the earth was a pristine white floor beneath monuments of granite and marble.

I had heard that Tennessee Williams was buried here, and in 2008 assumed he was in Bellefontaine, it being the larger cemetery of the two. We couldn’t find him and returned home only to learn that he was actually across the street in Calvary.  Despite not looking up the location of his grave before we left this time, I was still determined to find him.  While there, J used his phone to connect to the web to “find a grave” so we could at least see what Williams’ stone looked like or possibly find information on where to look for him inside Calvary because the visitors center was closed. J was able to find a picture, indicating a tall flat stone pinkish in color.  This would at least narrow down the search, though every pink colored stone we passed always seemed to be facing the opposite direction so that we couldn’t read the writing on it.

Winding through the narrow roads and searching the hillside for Tennessee, we reached a fork in the road and J told me to turn right.  I turned and looked out the window to the left and immediately shouted, “There he is!”  Williams’ stone was right there on a small hill, standing grand between his sister Rose and mother Edwina. I grabbed my camera and we stepped out of the car.  Eager to snap a photo, my camera would not turn on.  The battery was dead. No worries!  J had his brand new camera and would snap a photo for me, but upon taking out the camera he discovered he’d forgotten his memory card.  But my cam had a card!  So, I gave him the card and we were finally able to get the photo I wanted!

I wanted to yell “Stella!” or say something like “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers!”  Instead, I noticed the footprints in the snow.  Tennessee had had visitors. And over time, several had left him gifts.  There were a number of pennies lying there on his stone, amongst a few silk flowers.  His sister Rose lay at his side.  Her stone was flat but engraved on it were the words “Blow out your candles Laura.”  I smiled at that, a line from his infamous play Glass Menagerie for those of you who might not know.  The character of Laura from the play was based on Rose. Tennessee was very close to sister Rose.  Here’s why according to Wikipedia:

Tennessee was close to his sister Rose, a slim beauty who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. As was common then, Rose was institutionalized and spent most of her adult life in mental hospitals. When therapies were unsuccessful, she showed more paranoid tendencies. In an effort to treat her, Williams’ parents authorized a prefrontal lobotomy, a drastic treatment that was thought to help some mental patients who suffered extreme agitation. Performed in 1937 at the Missouri State Sanitarium, the operation incapacitated Rose for the rest of her life.

Mother Williams

Rose outlived her brother by 13 years. To the left of them stood a tall gray colored stone, and several feet away too. Edwina Dakin Williams.  I didn’t know who she was but asked J to snap a photo of her so I could remember to look her up.  It turns out it was Mother Williams, which explains a bit of why Tennessee is probably buried here in St. Louis. Edwina died 3 years before Tennessee did. Williams was born in Columbus, Mississippi, but never really called it home. In 1918, when Tennessee was seven years old, he and his family moved to St. Louis and lived in University City. He attended University of Missouri and later transferred to Wash U. His degree was earned in Iowa and he later studied theatre in New York before finally settling in New Orleans for much of his adulthood life. Williams died in New York City, but his brother Dakin insisted he be interred here in St. Louis, probably because Edwina was already there waiting. And I had always thought Tennessee belonged to New Orleans. But here he was.  And we found him.

Young Tennessee, Rose, and Mother Edwina

Even as J’s camera blinked at cold angels and a solid Jesus, as we walked between the tall obelisks, J reminded me that he wants to be cremated instead of buried. I didn’t indicate myself but said I guess it would depend on who was left.  I romanticize the thought of an interesting statue six feet above me that some curious onlooker might seek out and want to photograph some day, and maybe I’ll lie down beneath Midwest winters if I go before other family – giving them a place to go and leave a coin or silk flower. Or have them spend their money more wisely to have me cremated as well, and scatter my ashes in obscure places like backwoods bridges and giant flea markets like Orlando Bloom did to his father in Elizabethtown.

Remember me as a memory, find me in a dream, instead of some cold carved wall where you could touch my name.  I don’t think I want to be a monument.  I want to be a legend in words, like Tennessee.  And someday, somewhere, in the stacks of books in your dead loved one’s attic, in boxes of mementos and trunks of papers, you’ll blow dust in the air and reveal my name.

You’ll find me.

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