To Everything There Is A Season

I have a theory.

This is a favourite expression of mine whenever there is something I’m trying to solve – sooner or later I get a working theory.

Lately I’ve been brooding over the idea that history seems to hold a growing attraction for us as we get older.  When we are children, history tends to make our eyes glaze over, but over time it becomes increasingly compelling.

My theory is that as children, history is just full of “old people” doing “old stuff”.

Youth is more interested in the immediacy of what’s modern and “trending”.  As we age, we have a greater empathy for the struggles and reality of life for those who came before us.

We are drawn into comparisons and our imaginations begin to wonder what was it like dealing with the differences. Some of us develop this fascination earlier than others.  Let’s just say I’ve been a bit of a late bloomer.

This is really just a long way of saying I’ve fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole because of the Toronto Heritage Building list I found.  Toronto’s history has become a bit of an obsession with me.

This week I went to St Andrew’s Church not far from where I live.  Back when son #1 was still a baby, and long before we moved into this area, we attended Christmas parties in the basement of this church.  I had only the vaguest recollection of the building and my strongest memory was of the very narrow tree-lined road.  I was curious to see it again.

st-andrews-2

St Andrew’s – 1849

However, once I got there, it wasn’t the church that captured my attention, but the small graveyard beside it.  I deliberately used the old word ‘graveyard’ rather than ‘cemetery’, because that’s exactly how it felt.

st-andrews

Maybe it was the autumn chill in the air, or the tinge of changing colour on the trees, but I was reminded of the biblical saying “to everything there is a season”.

Even the burial stones that mark the passing of a life start to fade over time and eventually are worn smooth – the life once remembered, now lost by time.

Then I began to notice something unusual. On so many of the stones there were hands, or a weeping willow – something I’ve never noticed before.

st-andrews4

The next thing I knew, I was diving deeper into that rabbit hole.  I discovered that cemeteries, much like fashion and architecture, go through phases of what’s considered new and modern.  Who knew?!

In the 19th century, clasped hands and willow trees were ‘in vogue’ on burial stones.

The clasped hands were said to be a symbol of farewell to the earthly existence.  Where a husband and wife were buried together, it also symbolized the eternal unity of their relationship.

Personally, I think it just looks odd.

st-andrews2

On some markers, there was only a single hand pointing upward ( I wish I had thought to remove the leaves on the pointing finger).  This is said to be a pious person pointing upward to heaven.

st-andrews6

The willow tree is considerably more complicated and I found a couple of suggestions as to its meaning.   My favourite is that it was a symbol of renewal, growth, and immortality.

The willow tree apparently grows quickly and easily, even in difficult soil.  It was common to place willow branches in coffins and plant young trees on the grave.  It was believed that the spirit of the dead would rise as the tree grew.

st-andrews5

In a hundred-plus years from now, I wonder what people will be saying about our more current burial practices.

sisca

My parents and grandparents – Cochrane, Ontario

About Joanne Sisco

Retired but not idle. Life is an adventure - I plan to continue to embrace it.
This entry was posted in history, Random Stuff, Things I Like and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

104 Responses to To Everything There Is A Season

  1. petakaplan says:

    I am definitely a “late bloomer” too when it comes to appreciation of history. I have learnt history mostly by traveling – having not been a stellar student in my youth. But as we go, I am learning, finally, about so much via the history of a place and the people.

    I love the photos from the graveyard. Brought back memories of a gorgeous cemetry we visited in Buenos Aires years back. The older ones definitely have more character to them for sure…much like cities and architecture do.

    Peta

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      I’m really starting to appreciate the expression that education is wasted on youth. It’s certainly true of history. It is simply everywhere and I’m getting more and more happily entangled in it 🙂

      Like

  2. I like visiting old cemeteries. It started when I was girl when my parents bought some 30 acres of land in California Gold Rush territory. There were several mines on the property, and really dilapidated homes, and across the road an old cemetery I liked to wander through it and wonder about the people who used to live in the area and who lived in the houses that were falling apart on our property.

    I like the theory of the Willow tree. Do you ever see human faces in the trunks? I do! 🙂 Not always but there have been times.

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  3. Very interesting post and photos, Joanne. Maybe the willow is a symbol of mourning too, and that’s why it’s called a weeping willow. Gravestones hold a fascination for me too, although I haven’t wandered around a graveyard for many years.

    Like

  4. TheLastWord says:

    How odd! Just 2 days ago, my wife and I were chatting about what we’d go back to University for once we’ve retired and tuition was free. We both said we’d study history…

    I’ve always loved walking through graveyards. There is an air of peace and love that is not found anywhere else, I believe. I love the thought of the people remembered, to strangers by the epitaphs and to loved ones by stories told and retold.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. LB says:

    Fascinating! I especially liked thi about the willows: “It was believed that the spirit of the dead would rise as the tree grew”.
    You are so right … it is the stories, not the dates, that draw us in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      The willow thing was a big surprise for me … I had never heard anything about this before.
      We might think that certain practices of the past are unusual, but I can’t help wonder what the future generations will think of us!!

      Like

  6. sepultura13 says:

    I’ve always loved looking at gravestones, even when I was a kid. Cemeteries have fascinated me forever! Wonderful photos – and perfect song!
    🙂

    Like

  7. RuthsArc says:

    Definitely agree with your theory. History becomes more relevant as we age. Interesting grave stones and markings. You’ve made me curious about my local cemeteries.

    Like

  8. Su Leslie says:

    I’m definitely an old soul. I loved history at school and loved hearing my mother’s stories even more. It wasn’t until I lived in England that I really began to appreciate the physical dimension of history (I guess an apartment in a 17th century Manor house with. Connection to Guy Fawkes helped), but now visiting graveyards has become so much a part of travelling that the Big T actually offers to stop when he sees one!! It can be addictive though. I found a fascinating headstone a few years ago — for a 17 year old girl who died of a gunshot wound. In NZ even know that’s pretty rare, so I had to research her story. It was terribly sad (shot by jilted boyfriend) and even know I keep thinking of other elements of the story that I just “need” to know about and go off to do more research.

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      omg – living anywhere in Europe with its rich history would absolutely consume me! It’s still a dream of mine that someday I will get to spend several months living overseas so I can really absorb some of its history.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who comes home from an outing – even to a cemetery – and feels compelled to do some research. With your background, I imagine it’s even more of an instinct!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Su Leslie says:

        I so understand that! I dream of being able to spend a few months in Scotland, researching my family tree. I’ve found a lot of what is online, but know from short trips in the past that there is so much to learn from graveyards, local museums, archives and sometimes just going into pubs and talking to people (hell, I know). I hope your dream can come true; where would you go?

        Like

  9. jan says:

    I never thought of headstones as being in or out of vogue but I guess it’s true! I think you’re right – we start to care more about history as we get older.

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      I’m starting to think one could age a cemetery just by the type of headstones it contains.
      I might be a bit odd, but I still think this would be an interesting subject to study more.

      Like

  10. How appropriate to write about graveyards in this spooky month of October. My first thought when I saw the hands, was – it’s been nice knowing you! Very interesting, I’m going to start paying more attention when I’m in a cemetery. I too, want to be scattered – on a trail, on a mountain, or on the river – what do I care, I won’t know.

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      Thanks for the laugh … I hadn’t considered the ‘so long, it’s been nice to know ya’. That puts an entirely different perspective on the hands showing on the shared headstone of a married couple 😀

      Like

  11. What a perfect post to begin October, Joanne. Leave it to you! What a very strange thing….grave-marking traditions. I never heard of this. Not sure I’m a fan of the married couples “holding hands” either…looks more like a handshake, which is just too strange to contemplate. But very much enjoyed learning all you discovered. A most interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      Thank you! I thought they looked like shaking hands too … just very, very odd.

      The whole notion of ‘in vogue’ styles for cemeteries struck me as odd … although in hindsight, why not? Everything else seems to have ‘a season’ of popularity, doesn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Phil Taylor says:

    I share your fascination with graveyards and the history they hold. I think they are usually very beautiful places.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      “Usually” is the key word. Unfortunately in my hometown, they missed the point completely. It’s a barren and unattractive place because if they allowed things like trees, shrubs, flowers, etc it would create an inconvenience for the people who mow the grass 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  13. So fascinating Joanne thanks for sharing.

    Like

  14. When you’re a kid, you don’t yet realise that you are also part of history. The only thing that exists is the “now”, where you don’t actually want to be, coz you want to be older, “grown up”. Eventually you not only realise that growing up was a bad idea, lol, but that experiences like having lived in a precarious place during the cold war and having visited a country/countries that doesn’t exist anymore have shaped you in some way. At this point, history becomes relevant, it becomes enriching – not least because it allows you to live the NOW more consciously.

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  15. reocochran says:

    I love the song and the idea from the Bible about seasons and life. The photo of both your grandparents and parents made me get eyes filled up. Joanne, sorry that you lost those two sets of special loved ones. ❤
    I have followed my parents into antique shops with my brothers, traveled to historical homes and farm houses, museums with old clothing items and classic book exhibits all my life since I was probably 6 and my youngest brother was 3. It is different in each family but looking at old items fascinates me. I have to admit my photographer artist daughter wanted to go into cemeteries more than I did.
    Thank you for your mentioning age does effect us more on this subject of history. I do feel "meaning" makes things more real, as we get older. If this doesn't make sense, it may be just my way of expressing my present interest over my past interest. 🙂

    Like

  16. Margie in Toronto says:

    Is this the St. Andrew’s Church at 115 St. Andrew’s Road – behind the hospital? I was just over there on Tuesday as they have been hosting the Scottish Diaspora Touring Panels so if you had made it inside you would have had another history lesson! 🙂 This is a project that has had contributions from all around the world and tracks the history of Scottish contributions and immigration throughout the past and up to the present day. Tomorrow, Oct. 1st is the final day here in Toronto so worth a visit.
    I did notice the graveyard and would have loved to be able to visit. A friend of mine attends this church so perhaps I will get the chance to explore it at some point.
    I think perhaps being more aware of our own mortality makes our own history more important, hence the popularity of racking your ancestry and in turn this can make us more interested in a wider field as we seek to understand our place in the bigger scheme of things.
    My degree is in history so it’s always something I’ve been interested in – love non-fiction – love historical documentaries and love to travel to places rich in history.

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      This is the same church and I wondered why there were so many cars in the parking lot on a weekday afternoon. Now I wish I had ventured inside!! Unfortunately, today is not an option …. damn, lost opportunity!

      I think that our growing awareness of our own mortality certainly plays a HUGE role in our growing interest in history.

      Like

  17. A lovely reflective post, Joanne. I think another reason why some of us become more interested in history with age, might be because we’re more cognizant of our own mortality and empathize with those who have come and gone. We recognize that they had whole lives, disappointments, triumphs, failures, and love through all its phases. Graveyards are particularly evocative for me. Thanks for the history on the stones. The willow is beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. joey says:

    I have always been drawn to histories, even as a child. My grandparents, especially my father’s mother, put all the stories in me. I cherish that in a way words can’t convey.

    The weeping willow grows up to 8 feet a year, but they don’t live long, compared to other trees. They live about 60 years, which I wonder if that correlates to the expected life span at the time of its huge graveyard popularity? Just a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. bikerchick57 says:

    Awesome post and photos, Joanne. That is very interesting about the clasped hands and willow trees on the grave markers. There is a cemetary in Appleton that has very old and unusual markers…might be worth a visit and a history lesson before the snow flies.

    Like

  20. Heyjude says:

    I have always loved history and finding out about places I visit and people who lived there and especially architecture. Living in Ludlow for those few years has made me very interested in English history over the medieval period what with all the shenanigans going on there. I suppose living in a land as old as this makes us quite nonchalant about history, until we reach a certain age when we have time to look around us more. I adore graveyards, mostly for those images and decorative details, sometimes the words. Fascinating to see the different designs and I’m glad you gave us an explanation of them. I found some unusual ones in Scotland that I haven’t seen before – now I shall have to investigate further. Thanks for such a delightful post Jo.

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  21. I concur with your getting older and getting more interested in history. I was a history major for my first degree so have always found it fascinating but local history is becoming more of my thing. Who owned this land before us? How was this area established? Why is our farm called Ruell Downs? Things like that. It was interesting to read about cemeteries, I suppose everything has a fashion element about it. I wonder how easy it will be to trace the resting places of people as we move more towards environmentally friendly ways of laying loved ones to rest.

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      I’ve been wondering something similar. The trend to spreading ashes poses a new challenge for future generations.
      Once upon a time, I thought that’s what I would want, but now I’m not so sure. Now that my parents are both gone, and I still have a place to ‘visit’ them, I’m not sure about the whole scattering thing anymore.

      Like

  22. If you ever make it to Vienna, Austria take a day and visit the “Zentralfriedhof” (central cemetery).

    It is one of the largest cemeteries in this world and one of the oldest as well. There is a section for musicians, a section for royals, then there are old Jewish tombstones from the 15th centuries.

    I am fascinated by old cemeteries, they do tell a story. Great pics!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      Of all the travelling I’ve done over the years, I’ve rarely visited cemeteries … which is such a shame. There are so many great discoveries in a cemetery.

      I had a brief layover in Vienna a number of years ago … just long enough to venture into the downtown area for lunch. I’d like to think there will be a next time 🙂
      I get excited seeing burial stones from the 19th century. I can’t imagine exploring the history of Europe via its cemeteries!!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. DailyMusings says:

    That first stone with the hands was beautiful. I think it is a natural progression to become more interested in history as we age. We have been a past and are becoming part of it! When I realize many of the people I work with were not born yet when I bring up some major event of the past I am always jarred by it.

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  24. Interesting theory and one I would have shared wholeheartedly, I hated history at school, I blamed the awful teacher who I remember far too clearly to this day. However, I say I would have because our 16 year old daughter is passionate about history, she finds it fascinating, she loves novels based in the early 1900’s, she puts me to shame with her knowledge, she loved reading Shakespeare for kids when she was 10! She doesn’t want to pursue it at all, but it does interest her immensely!

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    • Joanne Sisco says:

      I would then say your daughter has an old soul … which is wonderful 🙂

      I think it’s sad that one bad teacher can totally ruin something . Perhaps your antipathy for history could have been averted.

      Like

  25. Tippy Gnu says:

    Maybe another reason us old fogies are interested in history is because we’re about to join it. Thanks for the interesting graveyard photos and background info.

    Like

  26. I agree with you about our renewed interest in history from a certain age. When I was young I couldn’t understand why we had to learn about dead people, and from far away.
    Thanks for this tour. This is fascinating. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Like

  27. While I haven’t got the history bug entirely I share your fascination with ‘graveyards’ and the stories so many of them hold…speaking of which, wondered why your parents and grandparents are Sisca and your name is Sisco?

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      The change of that one vowel is a mystery we’ve never been able to solve.
      We always thought it was an error at immigration when my grandparents and my father came to Canada.
      A few years ago, I discovered they had actually entered through Ellis Island and one day I found the manifests online (THAT was interesting!) … and the manifests were correct. They were clearly entered as Sisca.

      I’ve scoured the local paper as far back as the 1920s, and all I know is that by the time my father joined the army in 1942, his name had changed to Sisco.

      I don’t know why the decision was made to have Sisca on their graves. That’s not the name by which they were known.

      Like

  28. Joe says:

    I love historical places but you are correct Joanne when we are younger it does not seem to have as much as an impact on us. One of my favorite places to visit is the Sleepy Hollow Cemetary in New York. It’s loaded with historical people like Elizabeth Arden, Walter Chrysler, Andrew Carnegie, The Helmsley’s, and of course Washington Irving the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These are great images and you chose the perfect song to go along with your post 😀

    Like

  29. I’m still not a fan of history, unless it’s geology 😉
    I have seen headstones with videos that play when you walk by. Pretty crazy.

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      hahaha – geology makes my excursions into the 19 century historically insignificant 🙂

      Headstones with videos? That’s weird stuff … but I guess everything is being affected technology these days.
      Who knows? Maybe someday the concept of putting a name and a date on a rock will seem pretty archaic.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. Sue Slaght says:

    Well you are taking us down a fascinating rabbit hole that is for sure! I had no idea bot the ‘in vogue’ cemetery traditions. I do find it sad when I see gravestones where the markings have been so worn and faded no information remains. Definitely the passing of time in tangible view.

    Like

  31. Dan Antion says:

    I enjoy history. I think I always have, but as a child, I was more interested in listening to older people tell stories than I was in reading history books. I still don’t have a good grasp of the “important” past, but I enjoy history. I have a theory too. I think having stuff on a headstone that causes future generations to do some research, is a way of staying relavent after we die. I do like visiting old cemeteries, some of the stones tell interesting and often sad stories.

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      LOL! I like your theory. It certainly holds true for me, doesn’t it? 🙂

      I’m not a big fan of facts and dates. It’s just too dry for me. I like the stories and the personal stuff – the real, everyday stuff that we deal with.
      What I find really sad are the number of graves for small children. The early days before antibiotics, insulin, abundance of food, etc were not easy.

      Liked by 1 person

  32. You got me to thinking here, and I’ve never ever seen a willow tree on a headstone. I did trim and stake a willow tree this morning which is kind of creepy, I think. The most interesting headstone I have ever seen is one not far from here in a real shiny black material with the usual lettering on the front, but when you looked at the back there was the Eiffel Tower and the words ‘we will always have Paris.’ 🙂

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  33. Gravestones are so spooky and fascinating. Each one tells a story!

    Like

  34. There was a small, quiet graveyard tucked away at the back of the neighborhood I grew up in. Our house was on rented First Nations land, so all of the graves belonged to Native Americans. Some of the gravestones had special cameo settings inlaid to display photographs or painted/sketched portraits of the deceased, and a few of these were wonderfully old; weathered sepia images of somber, lined faces framed by dark hair and traditional adornments. They were beautiful. I used to tiptoe through in the afternoon sometimes and study them, wondering about the lives of the people they showed.

    There’s a giant multipurpose field and recreation center sitting next to the place now. So much for resting in peace.

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      I think that putting a cameo on the grave is very common in some cultures. I visited a cemetery in southern Italy a few years ago and was surprised to see that almost all of the graves had a photo.
      I can understand your fascination with this graveyard when you were growing up. It would have been full of stories 🙂

      Like

  35. dconnollyislandgmailcom says:

    I too avoided history when I was younger. As an adult, I have increasingly gotten into it! I like your theory — it makes good sense to me!
    Donna
    Www. Retirementreflections.com

    Like

  36. Norm 2.0 says:

    I’ve always been a history buff even from a relatively young age, so I guess I’m weird that way. I especially love to visit graveyards whenever I visit new places. You can learn so much about how people lived just from how they died and how they are remembered.
    It looks like you’re making a much bigger dent in your historic buildings list than I am, but I’m going to try to do some catching up this fall; it’s fun isn’t it?

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      You know the expression “having an old soul”? I’m guessing that’s you 🙂

      My fascination with cemeteries is relatively recent. They are endlessly interesting! I don’t get the feeling I’m denting this list at all. I haven’t even finished converting all of it into something usable for me. There is just SO MUCH HISTORY! Can you imagine trying to undertake this kind of activity in Rome or Paris or London?!!

      Liked by 1 person

  37. I really love the images of weeping willows… not so much the hands. Modern-day cemeteries are so boring when compared to historical graveyards: grave stones are usually all the same size and shape and set in perfect rows. I, like you, get very excited when I discover a graveyard with personality!

    Like

  38. Lynn says:

    I share your sentiments about the clasped hands between husband & wife. I guess I won’t have to worry about it as I hope to just be scattered. Shhhh…don’t tell anyone!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have hesitated about answering that I would like to be scattered too. Now, I’m not so sure.
      The question is *where*? I wouldn’t know how to answer that question.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn says:

        I read somewhere that as people exited a funeral, they were given sealed envelopes, each containing ashes of their loved one. They were asked to take the ashes & scatter them wherever they chose. I loved this idea.

        Like

        • Joanne Sisco says:

          My first reaction was that it felt a bit creepy to be handed an envelop of someone’s ashes at the end of their funeral … but as I started to think about the idea of having my ashes thoughtfully cast about in multiple loved spots does sound very nice 🙂
          I guess that’s the key, isn’t it? “Thoughtfully” cast in a loved spot and not simply dumped in the trashcan in the parking lot 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  39. Ally Bean says:

    I grew up immersed in history. My mother taught it, my dad loved it, and I was tossed into it, regardless of my interest. The result was as an adult, I avoided it. However, now as I get older I’m finding myself drawn to it, like you are. I’m less interested in the facts about things, more interested in the lessons I can learn from history. Maybe we all are this way, huh?

    Like

    • Joanne Sisco says:

      I agree with you completely, Ally. Maybe that’s why I found history so dry when I was younger .. it was all dates and facts. I’m more interested in the stories – that personal interest stuff about life, living, surviving … or not. That is much more compelling to me.

      Liked by 1 person

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