Something Judith said recently about hiding artifacts in her garden reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to confess. I’ve been bringing my ancestors back to the garden.
It all started last spring when I went to Iowa City to find the grave of a triple great grandfather. Christian Kaufmann was born in Pennsylvania at the end of the 18th century and made the most of the expanding opportunity this country had to offer. He rafted down the Ohio River until he found a place that he liked and then WALKED back to PA and brought the family to Dayton, Ohio. His children (there were 14 of them) also caught the westering spirit and headed for Iowa. It was there, in Iowa, that Christian Kauffman was laid to rest in January of 1858.
I had driven that morning from Des Moines and arrived mid-day. I checked in at the cemetery office and was informed that the grave I was seeking was in the old part of the cemetery and that many of the headstones were no longer visible as they had been eroded and had sunk below the ground. Seeing that I was a bit disappointed at that news the supervisor invited me to visit the cemetery’s “special site.” It is a headstone that has been nicknamed “The Black Angel” and it is surrounded by myth and mystery. It seemed quite benign on that spring afternoon.
Next I went off to the “old section” armed with a crude map and after re-orienting myself a few times, I found his headstone. After standing trying to imagine which trees might have been there in January of 1858, a year before his grand-daughter, my great-grandmother Sara Alta Kauffman was born, I went about cleaning up the area around the headstone.
As I was scraping up the bits of leaves around the base of the obelisk I thought, “this would make good compost.” Then it hit me. Why not take this bit of Iowa back east with me and place it in the garden. So I scooped the decomposed leaves into a plastic bag and brought it with me. Early last May I placed it in the parsnip bed. I did the same in Ladbergen this past October, though the soil is still waiting for next spring to be put to work.