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Trying to find Old Jules

Diane Becker, "Country Life"

It wasn’t a stop I had planned to make.

I was in Alliance last week and, on the outskirts of town, saw a sign that directed visitors to where Old Jules was buried.

I love Mari Sandoz’s book of the old settler, and turned off the road to see the gravesite.

I drove on the small lanes throughout the cemetery hoping there would be a flashing arrow where the Old Jules’ plot was located.

No such luck.

I finally shut down the vehicle and started walking around what looked to me like the oldest part of the cemetery. The stones were whiter and taller and not polished.

I WANDERED from one gravestone to the next not finding any for Old Jules, but became interested in what people in the late 1800’s had carved onto the stones.

“Gone but not forgotten” and “Asleep in Jesus” were common epitaphs. But there were poems and Bible verses carved on many stones. “Budded on earth and blooming in heaven” is what the parents of a 1-year-old put on his stone.

In the past it was common to note the age of the deceased — for instance, “91 ys, 10 ds” or “7 ys, 62 ds.”

Many were remembered on the stones as “Father of …” or “Dear daughter of …”. I reluctantly left the cemetery not ever finding Old Jules’ plot but promising myself I’d visit our local cemetery when I got home.

It was Sunday evening when I got to the Madison Crown Hill cemetery and stopped just in the entrance to look at the oldest stones. Some of these were broken, and others I would need tracing paper to decipher what’s written on them.

There is a single stone that had the names of 3-year-old and 1-year-old siblings who died within three days of each other in 1884.

Before I left I visited my parents gravesite, which is always hard — both having died before they reached age 65.

DAD HAD planted a tree there after Mom died, and now it’s 30 feet tall. I also found the stone of one set of my grandparents before it was getting too late to see. I had forgotten my grandmother was a widow for almost 30 years.

I’ve avoided cemeteries in the past, but as I think about the people who once lived and worked the same land we do and built the country we now live in and enjoy, it doesn’t seem such a macabre place to visit.

Particularly I want to make a trip to the country cemetery at St. John’s Lutheran Green Garden west of Madison where more of my ancestors are buried.

I’m going to write down more of the inscriptions I find, too, like the one of a 4-year-old in Madison who died in 1889. “Dearest Johnnie thou hast left us, Here thy loss we deeply feel, But tis God that had bereft us, He can all our sorrows heal.”

And some day I’m going to find Old Jules’ site.

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