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4

You saw him at a distance: the gravedigger Schwart.

Like a troll he appeared. Somewhat hunched, head lowered.

In the cemetery amid the gravestones. Grimacing to himself as he wielded a scythe, a sickle, a rake; as he pushed the rusted hand-mower in fierce and unvarying swaths through the dense crabgrass; as he dug out a grave, and carted away excess soil in a tipsy wheelbarrow; as he paused to wipe his forehead, and to drink from a jar he carried in his coverall pocket. Tipping back his head, eyes shut and gulping like a thirsty dog.

Schoolboys sometimes squatted behind the cemetery wall that was about three feet in height, made of crude rocks and chunks of mortar, in poor repair. Briars, poison ivy and sumac grew wild along the wall. At the front entrance of the cemetery there was a wrought iron gate that could be dragged shut only with difficulty, and an eroded gravel drive, and the caretakers stone cottage; beyond these, there were several sheds and outbuildings. The oldest gravestones ran up practically to the rear of the cottage. To the grassy area where the caretakers wife hung laundry on clotheslines stretching between two weathered posts. If the schoolboys couldnt get close enough to Mr. Schwart to taunt him, or to toss chestnuts or stones at him, they sometimes settled for Mrs. Schwart, who would give a sharp little cry of alarm, hurt, pain, terror, drop what she was doing in the grass, and run panicked into the rear of hovel-house in a way that was very funny.

It would be pointed out that harassment of the cemetery caretaker predated Jacob Schwarts arrival. His predecessor had been similarly taunted, and his predecessors predecessor. In Milburn, as in other country towns in that era, harassment of gravediggers and acts of vandalism in cemeteries were not uncommon.

Some of the schoolboys who harassed Jacob Schwart were as young as ten, eleven years old. In time, others would be older. And some werent schoolboys any longer, but young men in their twenties. Not immediately, in the 1930s, but in later years. Their shouts wayward and capricious and seemingly brainless as the raucous cries of crows in the tall oaks at the rear of the cemetery.

Gravedigger! Kraut! Nazi! Jew!


| The Gravedigger`s Daughter | c