Small Ghosts – St. John the Baptist Cemetery – and my weird brother

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You never know who you are going to run into. Sunday morning we went out to the Farmer’s Market in Folsom. It wasn’t the usual California Certified Organic Farmer’s Market we usually go to, but one that was closer to home. We thought we’d give it a try.

By we I mean my teenage daughter Clara and my elder brother Max. Of course Max complained that he wasn’t a morning person. I told him it would be just like when we were kids. He wasn’t impressed but enough prodding and cajoling got him up and into his usual black shirt and jeans. I always tell him that a visit to my house never guarantees he will get any sleep.

Yes, that is what this Vampire family does every once in a while. For those of you who are new here…we don’t live in the dark shadows or crypts or old black houses or castles. Our world is the same as yours… only we’re not quite like everyone else.

He wasn’t impressed by the market either. It was small compared to the larger Certified Organic Farmer’s Market we’ve been going to since the kids were babies. On the bright side there was a wonderful tea and spice seller I’d go back for. We also picked up some wool for a friend who spins.

The crowd wasn’t large. Maybe it was the biting cold wind. Despite that Max still got more than his fair share of looks. There is something about him that attracts people – a magnetism that oozes out of him even when he is at his grumpiest. A smile from him can warm and chill like death depending on what kind of mood he is in.

“Your friends are so weird,”Max said out of the blue as I was exploring the spice and tea booth.

“Tell me something I don’t know. At least they’re interesting.”

The night before we’d been out and about doing Vampire stuff (you know – Vampire stuff) and ran into my old pal Foxy Mendoza (aka Mitch aka Jonathan.) Foxy is pretty annoying and an acquired taste like fermented shark or unripe green oranges or dog food on toast. Foxy is always fun and flashy and for some reason he can charm those warm-blooded ladies unlike most Vampires. Women are attracted to Max like they’re attracted to chocolate or shoes. They like Foxy like … I have no idea. Last night Foxy was wearing red pants (something nobody should wear over the age of five) with a blue and green vest that he wore over a black shirt. This was topped with a pork pie hat with a peacock feather in it. None of it went with his strawberry blonde hair and pale complexion. He was talking about how cheese and mustard pairs up and the historic… anyway, it was annoying – but fun to watch. Plus Foxy is always so glad to see us.

So back to the Farmer’s Market. I saw a few parents from the school so we had to chat. Max was charming as I introduced him.

By the time all of the booths had been viewed and we’d visited with our friends Max and Clara were ready to go.

On the way home I decided to stop by the old St. John the Baptist Catholic cemetery (this is really an old-fashioned graveyard.) You’ll find no lavish crypts here. It is a small plot of about two or three acres and a small church founded in 1853. Yes, this was the Gold Rush Era in California. Irish emigrants came here to find their fortunes, make a better life and for many, die before their time. Unfortunately like many cemeteries of that time a high number of the graves are those of children and young people in their teens and twenties. Deaths at a young age were not unexpected, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t tragic or heartbreaking to their families and friends.

Max walked alone for a bit while Clara and I looked for stories in the headstone inscriptions.

A few were born around the same time as us or born before we were. We remembered places like this as a child, but so many are now gone or moved. Maxwell was born in 1849 on a ship in San Francisco Bay. I came along ten years later with three more brothers in-between us. We thought such practices of burying folks was odd, until we were told that we were not like others. If we were lucky and smart we’d be around long after the white stones turned gray with age and wind wore the names down to a faint scratch.

We didn’t feel any ghosts in this place. We never have. Everyone had moved on or moved elsewhere. Maybe under a full moon or an anniversary there might be the spirit of one of the occupants, but the place has never felt overly haunted like other places of the dead. You might find them (ghosts) walking the banks of the lake or sitting on the edge of the bluffs, but not here where they were laid to rest so long ago.

That isn’t quite the entire story. In the back, along the fence is the lone grave of a small child. She didn’t live during the Gold Rush but a much later addition. Her name was Julie Ann and she lived from 1975 to 1983. Over the years her grave has been visited by strangers but there is no sign of anyone around who loved or cared about her. Her stone is covered with dirt, lichen and leaves. She is alone, far from the family graves of children who lived in the nineteenth century.  I hope she was loved. More than anything I hope she isn’t there.

As a rule I hate ghosts, but the small ones are sad little things that need to move on and have their peace.

Clara jolted Max out of his revelries by bumping on his arm and asking, “So, Uncle Max, how long do you plan on having the squirrel on your face?”

“Excuse me?” Max looked annoyed.

“The beard. I think it looks good,” I told him. It does looks good – short and neat, not one of those shaggy things.

“You should shave it off. But I like the glasses,” said Clara. Like a lot of teenage girls, Clara thinks glasses on good-looking guys is ultra hot. She wandered off to look at more stones and find things to tell her friends about.

Max stopped by one of the older stones and smiled. The inscription was of a 21-year-old women from Ireland who died in 1862. She’d come all the way to California only to quickly die.

My brother glanced at me. “She isn’t there.”

“Tell me more,” I said leaning against him in that funny way siblings lean on each other.

“Mom turned her.”

I almost said HOLY SHIT, but let him continue his story.

“The lass was in an abusive marriage. As a Vampire she could have freedom she never had as a young wife with a husband who thought it was his duty to beat her. So with the help of our dear mother she escaped and a stone was placed on an empty grave.” Then he gave a low laugh. “She lives in Seattle now.”

“You know her?”

“Yes, I know her. Oh don’t look surprised. She seduced me when I was sixteen.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were only six – just a kid.”

We looked up to see Clara looking at more stones as she made her way back up to the car. I was not going to tell her about Max’s friend. She could learn about that later – much later.

Anyway, for those of you who are traveling around Northern California or in  the Sacramento area and looking for something to do on a Saturday or Sunday check out Folsom. You can visit St. John the Baptist then talk a walk down historic Sutter Street, have lunch, shop or stop by and have a beer at one of the many fine pubs. Walk down to the old Powerhouse or across the old footbridge and get a first class view of the beautiful Rainbow Bridge and Lake Natoma. Then have a picnic at Negro Bar State Park and feed the geese and ducks at the beach. Bring your bicycles and ride around the lake on the American River Bike Trail. Or head over to the Folsom Zoo where you can see the most amazing assortment of wild animals (from tigers to hawks to monkeys) who have been rescued and can no longer survive in the wild on their own. Then take a drive over to Folsom Dam. There used to be water in the lake before the drought (really, I kid you not.) You can also see the famous Folsom Prison which is right next to the lake. Maybe you’ll hear the ghost of Johnny Cash singing in the hills (I doubt that too but it sure would be cool.)

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman
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On the American River Bike Trail near Negro Bar.

On the American River Bike Trail near Negro Bar.

6 thoughts on “Small Ghosts – St. John the Baptist Cemetery – and my weird brother

    • Yes I will. Then we’ll go over to Sutter Street for a brew or maybe Snooks for Ice Cream – then off to Rainbow Bridge to look at pretty things. I’ll leave Max at home.

    • Yes indeed. I always find it amazing how one can piece together histories about families and friendships through a few words and dates etched on decorative stones.

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