This past Sunday was somewhat emotional as I took a drive down to San Diego to visit Tom Graeff's grave site. On the heels of a visit to Hawaii to meet and interview the ever-enigmatic Bryan Pearson, I feel like every day I'm getting closer to finding out who Tom was as a person, and what his hopes and dreams were.
It was a gorgeous day outside, and it didn't take long to find Tom tucked away towards the far end of the cemetery. His tombstone, a simple marble plaque in the grass reads:
Son and Brother
1929 - 1970
framed by a border of twin pine cone clusters. Sitting in the grass, where nearby families were celebrating their loved ones' memories with picnics and flowers, I couldn't help but to think of how few visits Tom must have been payed over the years. And of course I can't help but think of all the lonely souls nearby whose families may have also passed or moved away over the years, leaving their memorials to grow cluttered with leaves and twigs.
A part of me wishes I could send cut flowers once a week to keep the graves remembered, but why choose one when so many others as so deserving of recognition? They've all died, but before that, they all lived, and that's worth remembering.
When I visited Pearl Harbor last week I was appalled to learn that structurally the USS Arizona Memorial is falling apart inside; more people visited than had ever been planned for, and the structure is terribly damaged. I hope one day to be able to donate enough to keep the memories of these people and events alive, but it's something that becomes harder and harder as time wears on. It's inevitable that sooner or later everything fades away.
I watched a fantastic documentary last year called The Young and the Dead about the revitalization of Hollywood Forever Cemetery by a mortuary owner in his late 20's, who's cleaned up the cemetery and turned in from a sad joke into a gorgeous park and celebration of Hollywood's golden glory. Since it's heyday the cemetery had become rundown, especially in comparison with rival Forest Lawn, and the stars buried there deemed not "important" enough to merit visitation, aside from the great Rudy Valentino. But if Fatty Arbuckle isn't worthy of remembrence, there can be little hope for the rest of us.
In less than 50 years Tom Graeff's whole identity was lost, merged with that of Charles Robert's. Without those few dedicated to passing the torch, his life and others' would be lost forever, slipped through the cracks of popular culture and doomed to exist perpetually archived on dusty court records and spooled microfiche.