My four siblings and I were born in Boulder, Colorado, back in a previous century. My older brother, Alan, died the day he was born. Do the math; I never met him. One of my younger brothers, Douglas, died three days after he was born, but I never met him, either. My older sister recalls seeing him and attending the small funeral. One of the ironies of life in the modern world is that both died of complications of an Rh-factor problem. Less than two decades later, this problem was quite manageable and reliably survivable.
My only related memory is of visiting my brothers’ graves at a small cemetery near the Boulder airport. I remember cards in plastic, marking the graves until gravestones would be installed.
We left Boulder for southeastern Idaho when I was ten. I was the first to return, and that was more that 30 years later. My parents’ recollection was that they never bought gravestones. There has been talk for some years of needing to go back to Boulder and take care of that.
My family and I were vacationing in the Denver and Colorado Springs areas several years ago, and we decided to spend a day in Boulder. I took them on a short tour of landmarks, including the home where I spent my first decade; the nearby park through which I was not supposed to walk on my way home from school, but often did; and my first elementary school, now renamed. I took some photos, then managed to lose the memory card containing them before returning home.
We went to one — or maybe it’s a hundred — of Boulder’s main attractions, the Pearl Street pedestrian mall. I left the family there and went to find the nearest cemetery to the airport, according to an online map. It was as I remembered it, including the airport’s landing pattern. My mission was to get information which would help us finally to place gravestones at my brothers’ graves and, if possible, to find the graves themselves.
It was a Sunday, and the cemetery office was closed. There wasn’t a directory or map of graves outside, and I hadn’t found anything online. I jotted down the phone number and some other information, so I could call the cemetery after I returned home. I never did.
Last summer, we went to Fort Collins for a wedding reception, and we had most of a day to wander wherever we pleased. So we wandered to Boulder. I took the family on a similar tour of prominent David Rodeback landmarks. The children are older, so they appreciated them more. I even added a stop or two to the tour, including the old home of my classmate Bryce on Euclid Avenue. I stayed at his home when my youngest brother was born, and his mother caught us in the back yard, practicing our swearing (which is something one must practice to do well). She was not amused, but, 43 years later, my family was.
I left them at the Pearl Street Mall again and headed for the cemetery, called Mountain View Memorial Park. It’s a good name, but, really, there’s hardly a place in Boulder which doesn’t have a mountain view, as long as no buildings or trees are in the way. It was the view of small aircraft on final approach to the local airport which has stuck in my memory.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and the office was closed again, but this time I was smarter. I called the number on the door, and a very kind lady named Debra answered from the nearby mortuary. She looked up my brothers in their register, gave me directions for finding their graves, and offered to come help me if I had any difficulty. Difficulty was expected, given the absence of gravestones.
It was raining when I talked to her, while sitting in my car, but, by the time I drove around the perimeter to Section G, the sun was starting to peek out. I took the path toward the bell tower, as directed.
A few dozen paces up the path, as expected, I found the marker for Babyland. They bury the children in the same area, presumably to accommodate the smaller plots efficiently. I’m not sure whether it’s a happy place or a sad one. Both, perhaps, but leaning toward sad.
Within a few minutes, thanks to Debra’s instructions, I found my brother Douglas’s grave. I knew that my brother Alan’s grave was within 20 or 30 feet of his.
I will leave you to imagine the emotions of seeing my brothers’ graves for the first time in 38 years. These brothers, whom I have never met, were never a large part of my life, though there were a few points in my childhood and youth when I thought I would have fared much better with an older brother. One emotion was unexpected: Surprise.
Surprise at seeing a gravestone, that is.
I brushed the grass clippings away and tried to wipe away the raindrops too. Then I took some pictures — not just of the gravestone, but also of the immediate area and the view from several directions, to make it easy to find again.
Finding my brother Alan’s grave took several more minutes, but I succeeded.
It had a matching gravestone. In fact, most of the graves in Babyland have similar gravestones. Some have heart-shaped stones, and a few are larger and more ornate. I took more photos.
Out came my cell phone. I called my dad, told him I had found my brothers’ graves, was standing at one of them, and would send pictures. Then I told him there were already gravestones there, so he could cross that item off his to-do list. He was surprised, and it didn’t spark any memories, so I called Debra at the mortuary again, to see if she had any record of who had placed them there and when. She checked the files and reported that my parents had done it shortly after each burial. I called my dad back and reported this news. His memory is still good, but he still didn’t remember doing that.
I’ve generally had little success in return for the time I’ve invested in genealogical research, so it feels as if the moral to this story is, “Sometimes you succeed,” or maybe, “Sometimes it isn’t that hard.” Maybe the span of years, the matter of traveling hundreds of miles, and the little detail of succeeding the second time, not the first, combined to mean it this one really wasn’t easy. But it felt easy.
More to the point, perhaps, it felt good.
Good luck out there.