“I told you I was sick!”

by Ken Carpenter

            Epitaphs have been added to gravestones since the first human came along who was capable of scratching garbled words into a hunk of wood. He probably cared little if it was understood or not, he knew what it meant.

            “Heem gonn

            No mo steenk”.

            As the centuries have passed, epitaphs have assumed many guises. They have shown love, respect, pompous family and career records, quotes from holy texts, both serious and humorous descriptions of the demise and on and on. The title of this story has been used numerous times.

            The longest epitaph on record was Ancient Roman, and it exceeded 180 lines in celebrating the virtues of a wife. She must have been one heckuva woman, or her husband feared her power even from the grave. Her headstone must have been the size of an Edsel.

            Many people, both famous and not, have written their own epitaphs before their demise. Winston Churchill wrote “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

            One of the most brilliant mathematicians in history, Hungarian Paul Erdos (1913-1996), wrote simply “I’ve finally stopped getting dumber.”

            Actor Stan Laurel wrote, “If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again.”

            I think the best epitaphs are the funny ones, though I’m sure plenty of folks do not agree with me. They actually feel that death is serious or something.

            As technology progresses, epitaphs will become even more warped. A computer engineer has developed a solar-powered headstone with a sensor on it that activates a video screen with sound everytime a visitor approaches. I hope good taste is displayed, but human nature being what it is, you know it won’t always be. Sooner or later a striptease by the deceased, accompanied by them singing Feelings, will jolt some innocent passerby.

            I know, you don’t have to say it, me promoting decency and good taste is like Beelzebub boycotting a strip joint. It is just that the thought of walking past a grave that suddenly begins to display a bawdy vision of the dearly departed would be too much for even me to stomach. Of course, I might not be able to refrain from unleashing a mortified chuckle, but it wouldn’t be my fault. No, not at all, merely an uncontrollable snort yanked out by somebody sicker than me.

            I will now present some of my favored epitaphs, then finish up with a true “Epitaph In The Dead Of Night That Almost Caused Soiled Pants” tale from my past. Trust me, any more treks to the graveyard at midnight will be accompanied by Extra Strength Depends, my version of a bullet proof vest.

            In a Thurmont, Maryland cemetery; “Here lies an Atheist, all dressed up and no place to go.”

            “Here lies Ann Mann, who lived an old maid, but died an old Mann.” London, England.

            In a Ruidoso, New Mexico cemetery: “Here lies Johnny Yeast…Pardon me for not rising.” 

            Harry Edsel Smith of Albany, New York: Born1903-Died 1942. “Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.”

            Here lies Ezekial Aikle, age 102: “The Good Die Young.”

            On Anna Hopewell’s grave in Enosburg Falls, Vermont.

            “Here lies the body of our Anna,

            Done to death by a banana.

            It wasn’t the fruit that laid her low

            But the skin of the thing that made her go.” 

            Barrister Sir John Strange, interred in London, England in 1754, has a simple, clever and somewhat confusing epitaph on his grave. “Here lies an honest lawyer, and that is Strange.”  It seems odd to me that he is called a lawyer instead of a barrister. I guess it doesn’t matter, he may still be the last one documented as honest.

            ” Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a 44, no Les, no more.” A Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, Arizona, description of a Wells Fargo agent’s death in 1880.

            Another epitaph in Silver City, Nevada shows the old American West had no shortage of semi-poets hanging around their funeral parlors, or possibly in their taverns. “Here lays Butch, We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger, but slow on the draw.”

            “Stranger tread this ground with gravity!  Dentist John Brown is filling his last cavity.”

            No location for these last two. I love the last one, and though I don’t imbibe anymore, I’d gladly hoist one for the untimely sober Grober.

            “Jonathan Grober, Died dead sober.

            Lord, thy wonders never cease.”

            Back in the 1960’s or 70’s, I’m not quite sure, my brother, our two best friends and I decided to take a few flashlights and roam the old section of the Bonners Ferry cemetery. We walked slowly and respectfully, reading tombstones while the inky black night hovered just out of reach of our flashlight beams. It was eerie and there were few wisecracks being made. Knowing the crowd, I hesitate to say there were none.

            Suddenly we came up on a flat gravestone, barely poking above the grass. None of us remember the name or date that was etched into it, but none of us will ever forget the epitaph jumping out at us from below it.

            “Fear not, for I shall arise.”

            We took a few seconds to survey each other’s wide-open eyes, as if to reassure ourselves that we all read the same thing. Then we were off to the races, reaching the car in record time, hearts thumping like bass drums.

            The cemetery never saw our faces there at night again. I made a point of going back in the daylight to look at the epitaph with the reassuring sunshine peering over my shoulder though. I could not find it. I am not kidding, I searched low and lower, mostly lower, and could not find it.

            That freaked me out good, and still does. My cronies looked for it too, and had no more luck than I did. I’m going back again, with my wife this time, and if we can’t find it during the daytime, we might actually try it at night: armed with multiple flashlights, pepper spray and a double layer of Depends. For the record, she so far refuses to enter any cemetery at night. We shall see.

            I think maybe I have figured out what my own epitaph should be too, now that I remember how horrified the Arise made all of us feel.

            Ken Carpenter 1951-2051.

            “Feel that breath on the back of your neck? That’s me.”