Shortly after my wife and our family moved to the Buffalo area, my mother visited us. One of the first excursions we took was to drive her through Forest Lawn and Elmlawn cemeteries. Friends asked us, “Why did you go to cemeteries first?” This was my explanation.
When I was growing up, I wanted to read the comics in the newspaper. But when my parents came home, the first question was, “Where is the obituary page?” I did not know why they wanted to see who died. As I grew older, I realized why.
My father and two of his brothers owned a monument business, making monuments out of granite. They had a showroom in my uncle’s basement. The house sat on a hill with the basement at street level, so customers could enter easily. A display lot sat one house away from the showroom.
The death notices provided them leads to contact people about a monument. My mother worked in the office, and my father was the sand blaster. One uncle was the salesman, the other uncle was the designer.
When I was old enough to have a driver’s license, I began driving my parents around to various cemeteries to ensure that the monuments were properly set.
During my college years, I lived at home. Weekends and vacations I worked at the plant, washing the monuments after sand blasting. They had to be washed with an acid to remove the adhesive used to hold the rubber that had been cut with the design and lettering.
After college, I began working at a bank and putting money aside to buy a car. I bought a station wagon, which allowed me to take markers to cemeteries and set them on the various plots.
When I had to go to an unfamiliar location, I would ask my mother for directions. This is how she taught me her system of giving directions. She would say, “You know how to get to Blue Hill Cemetery.” She then proceeded to give me directions from a cemetery. No matter where I wanted to go, the directions were from one cemetery to the next.
In 1959, I started seminary in Philadelphia, an unfamiliar territory. I had to consult maps and ask people how to get to places. Some people gave me street-by-street directions, others asked if I knew where the art museum or the Liberty Bell was, and gave me directions from there. Getting from a location was always easier than trying to keep track of streets.
After seminary, my first church assignment was in Rochester, again unfamiliar territory. I took time to drive around the area to locate landmarks, such as the Eastman House, Midtown Towers and some Episcopal churches. The rector of the parish was able to direct me from certain landmarks before sending me out. Since I was now a clergyman, the landmarks were cemeteries and churches.
When our three children were old enough to drive and needed directions to a certain place, I passed on my mother’s technique of using landmarks they knew. Cemeteries, hospitals and churches have become my landmarks.
Recently, my daughter called and wanted directions to Niagara University. She said, “I don’t have money for the Grand Island bridge. I am in front of St. Stephens Church in Niagara Falls.” That was the landmark, and I gave her directions. She then said, “I knew if I gave you the name of a church you could direct me.”