I was an Army brat. I moved at least five times before my eighth birthday. The last move was to Utah, where both of my grandparents lived, and where, I later realized, my family on both sides had been solidly rooted since the mid-eighteen hundreds. Despite this, the close-knit community my parents chose was foreign to me. I often felt like an outsider because I wasn't born there, none of my ancestors lived there, and, unlike many of my classmates, I didn't go to school with my cousins.
That said, it was a really beautiful place to grow up, tucked between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. We had a lot of freedom to roam the neighborhood, which had so many interesting places to explore. Mountain streams tumbled through steep gullies, which we would wade through in the hot summer months, and sled down on sunny, snowy, winter days. When we were old enough, we extended our range further down the hill, riding our bikes to the town cemetery.
The cemetery was essentially a city park for our community. It wasn't a creepy place that we avoided - quite the contrary! People would routinely go for walks, ride their bikes, walk their dogs, or even picnic there. The shade and cool, green grass were welcoming in the dry desert heat. I loved to wander around the stones, reading the names and inscriptions, and thinking about the people who had come before us. My favorite gravestones were the little sandstone lambs which were placed for babies and children - they were heartbreakingly sweet. I came to recognize the surnames of my classmates (e.g. Adams, Barnes, Blood, Egbert, and Layton), and discern older pioneer gravestones from more modern markers.
In my teen years, I discovered that the cemetery was also a night-time hot spot in the summer. Apparently it was a tradition for teenage boys to have bottle rocket wars there. They would shoot these illegal fireworks at each other from behind the gravestones, using them as shields when the other side returned fire. This fascinated and frightened me in equal measure.
My parents eventually moved away from their home near the cemetery, but I still like to drive by whenever I happen to be in town. One visit was particularly meaningful. In the course of researching my husband's family (he grew up far away from me), I learned that several of his ancestors were buried in that very cemetery. We were able to locate their graves and share the story of this family with our children. The place where I'd grown up walking my dog and riding my bike, actually held the remains of and tributes to the ancestors of my future husband and children. My family had belonged there all along, I just hadn't known it until then.