Recollections by Jack Madill, Sept. 14, 1991 as printed in Manitou Western Canadian
My grandmother lies in the plot on the right as I move up the driveway. She, my grandfather, two bachelor uncles and an aunt rest quietly under a cloudless sky this beautiful summer afternoon. A gentle breeze and the singing birds are my only distraction as I pause to reflect. A step further along lie my great grandparents, Irish immigrants, they had settled in Ontarioâ€™s Ottawa Valley before coming on to Manitoba. My grandparents had soon followed after hearing of the highly fertile and free homestead land to be had in Manitoba. My grandmotherâ€™s house was like a second home to me. The hospitality of the Scotch and Irish was and is beyond compare. Being the only grandchildren, also afforded us a special place and perhaps, helped to create the spoiled brat syndrome.
On the left as I move along lies a cousin, beside her father and mother. She died in a farm accident. The headstone reads: Born Aug. 17th, 1934–Died Sept. 10th, 1937. It was my first direct involvement with a funeral. I was one of the pall bearers. I wish I could have known her through the learning years as a grownup.
My first recollection of a funeral was when I was about three or four years old. I recall only the long line of cars making their slow drive to the cemetery and the huge crowd standing around the open grave as the casket was being lowered. I vividly recall my child`s mind thinking: `There must be a better way`. I now realize there is no better way and the deceased that day was being honoured by the whole community.
To the right and to the left of me are friends, neighbours, acquaintances and those I didn`t know at all. Each, in his or her own way has contributed to the history of the community. To the right and the left of me are those of all ages, who have made the community and passed on to us. A legacy in deed and memory which is priceless. Before me lies the complete district history. I`m in a buoyant mood as I make my way up the hill, remembering all the happy moments and meetings as I read the names on each headstone.
I read the name of a gentleman, who, nearly sixty years ago endeared himself to us all. He always had time, or took time, to say hello to us young people and ask how we were. He made it a point to call us by name. He made us feel important, that we were somebody. I recall the night I first scored a goal in a hockey game. I`d staggered up to the goal on wobbly skates, and, after the third or fourth try managed to shove the puck over the goal line. After the game he let me know he`d seen it all, and that the greatest star in the national hockey league couldn`t have done it better.
In the next row of plots lies an old school chum. The first thing that comes to mind is the day he bloodied my nose at school over some minor disagreement. I probably was acting too big for my britches, and maybe deserved it. I`ve long ago forgot what it was about. It was soon forgotten and we remained the best of friends throughout the years.
Farther over by the east fence lies a kindly old gentleman who was chairman of our Christmas concert the year I was in grade one. I vividly recall impatiently waiting for the concert to begin so I could proudly recite my two or three lines, as if I were the star of the whole show. On the very top of the tree hung a shiny new windup top, and I sat through a large portion of the concert dreaming and wishing it could be mine. At the end of the concert, when Santa had entered one of the front windows, made his way up on stage, kissed Miss Hoover and started handing out the presents; I remember the surge of joy when Miss Hoover handed Santa the shiny new top, and he read my name on it.
Near the top of the hill lie my other grandparents. Members of two other families drawn from Ontario by the lure of good farmland. I`m saddened as I stand before this plot as I realize a younger brother lies here. A brother I never knew who had managed only a few weeks of life, one afflicted with a minor defect at birth. I`m further saddened to know that it could easily have been corrected if modern medical technology had been available.
The hum of an automobile draws my attention. It slows as it nears the cemetery gate. The occupants wave, wondering what`s up. Who`s that solitary figure sitting up on the hill? Whatâ€™s he sitting up there for? Then, busy with everyday affairs, they speed off. My attention is drawn to the very crest of the hill where the first burials took place. It is a sad place indeed. Several families lost all their children. All of them! Children from few weeks to a few years of age.
The cemetery had it`s beginning about 1880 on land owned by John Ryder. One of the Ryder children died and was buried on their own land. This particular site, on a hill, was selected because it was the only dry area nearby. An epidemic was rampant at the time. When the Snowdon children, who lived south across the road, started to die, the Snowdon family asked permission of the Ryder`s to bury there as well. The need of a common burial ground had become apparent and so, the Rural Municipality of Lorne took over the site. It was dedicated a cemetery in 1882.
The community of Altamont take a great deal of pride in their cemetery. Through the years the grounds have been maintained by community effort. `Work bees`were organized several times during the summer months when everyone pitched in and mowed grass, levelled plots, planted flowers or whatever else needed doing. Individual families also contributed time and effort to ensure that their plots were kept as neat and attractive as possible. Until very recently, (perhaps ten years) graves were dug by volunteers. There was never a shortage of help. More recently they`ve resorted to mechanical digging. This practise was started by former residents who were living some distance away, and being unavailable themselves, felt it unfair to ask someone else to do it for free.
The Fraser family, early pioneers, initiated a cemetery maintenance fund a few years ago, living at a distance and unable to physically contribute themselves, started a fund to be used to caretake the entire burial ground. This would enable the cemetery committee to hire a caretaker. The idea was so well received that the local elected cemetery committee advertised to all plot holders. This fund is now over $10,000.00 and growing. The prospect of the cemetery being neglected in the foreseeable future seems remote.
As I make my way down to the west I pass and recall many more familiar names and faces. My mood is improving as the names conjure up some joyous incident they and I had shared. Here lies the first man I ever worked for away from home. I was about fourteen, the war was just starting and men were scarce. I hired out to help stack hay. I worked hard. I wanted to show him I was a man. Wages were two dollars and a half a day at that time. He paid me three. He said I was worth it. I was walking about nine feet tall that Saturday night.
I pause a few plots further on as I recall a football game I played in sixty years ago. They chose up sides and I was chosen as â€œShortyâ€when nearing the bottom of the barrel. I was small for my age. One of my aunts told me they thought I was going to be the runt of the family. I found myself in opposition to a larger lad who was much more adept at kicking shins than he was a kicking the football. He worked me over pretty good. The next morning when I limped down to breakfast on bruised and swollen legs I finally deduced that he`d done it on purpose. I also discerned he didn`t do it on purpose to those bigger than himself.
And then I come to the plot where my own parents rest. I stop and wave to another car that slows as it passes. They return my greeting and continue on their way. They seem to realize I wish to be alone with my thoughts. Who has never thought: â€œIf I had it to do over again, I`d be a much better son than I wasâ€œ?
Further over I read the name of a lady who gave more of herself to the community than any amongst us. Unstintingly and for many years, she was an integral part of community activities. They say no one is indispensable, but, if it were so, she would come as close as anyone.
And then I come to the plot where I will finally reside myself. I`ll be home at last.
There is a tremendous feeling of home to a person who was born and grew up in a rural community. Those who went to school and joined the work force before 1930, and who have lived 50 or 60 years in some other part of Canada, still think of Altamont as home. Many of them and many younger, own plots and wish to â€œreturn home to restâ€œ.