One would imagine that living next to a cemetery could be at least a bit scary. We have a child, little Ruthie, who just turned two. Plus, there's Sam our four-year old Jack Russell terrier. So it would seem a cemetery next door could provide plenty of opportunity to create a few phobias in a child or pet. But we don't feel that way about our cemetery, or perhaps I should say THE CEMETERY. because there is no other cemetery quite like Chippiannock.
Unless you're familiar with the Quad-Cities, you may never have heard of Chipiannock Cemetery . Located on a rolling hillside in Rock Island, its name honors the local Indian culture of several hundred years ago. Describing Chippiannock has always been a challenge for writers because it is far removed from a traditional cemetery. No subdivision-like layout here, with rows of perfectly spaced plots, with clone-like headstones. Chippiannock is ...well... different. A full-size anchor adorns the grave of a ship's captain. Huge metallic balls appear at several gravesites seeming like the discarded marbles of the child of some ancient giant, rather than memorials whose significance I can't even imagine. Stone trees, an eternal baby's casket, these and more grace the thousands of graves on that rolling Illinois hillside. Has Chippiannock ever frightened me? Truthfully no, because it always seemed so unique, almost a living tribute to the departed men, women and children in the merciful Hand of God.
Chippiannock does not make me think of the deaths of those buried there but rather of their lives. That's why I love walking its grounds so much and why Sam and I have done so for many years. Then a few months ago Ruthie became old enough to join us on our excursions. Of course, Ruthie isn't much of a walker yet, which makes it interesting to watch me coaxing Ruthie, while trying to stop Sam from running after every squirrel in sight. We certainly have our fun, and I know Ruthie and Sam enjoy Chippiannock as much as I do.
After several visits, Ruthie developed a favorite stop where we just HAD TO GO each time. This was the grave of the Dimick children, Eddie and Jose, who were taken by illness from their families well over a hundred years ago. But after this tragic loss, Eddie's and Josie's pet dog would go day after day to their gravesite, and just wait attentively for the children he loved so much. The Dimicks were so moved by the dog's devotion that a full-size statue of the dog rests alongside Eddie's and Josie's grave...their eternal friend.
There was something about that dog (he appears to have been a collie) that just moves my little Ruthie. Every time we visit Chippiannock she gives the statue of the dog a hug. I frankly didn't think there could be much harm in it until the other day when Ruthie told me about "the doggies who sleep by her bed." "You mean doggie, don't you Ruthie?" I told her, because I knew Sam often slept by the foot of her bed. He was very protective of Ruthie. "No," she said, "There's Sammy, and the other doggie. My new friend I always hug." Well, besides Sammy, there could be only one dog, "she always hugs," but I decided not to say anything more about it. My wife Becky and I would have a talk about her imaginary friend later. I debated whether or not to stop our Chippiannock visits for awhile, but frankly Becky and I felt there were far worse imaginary friends a child could have, so our walks, and Ruthie's hugs, continued.
I didn't think much about it for several weeks - until last night. I often peek into Ruthie's room late each night. I am one of those fathers who worry about the slightest thing. Is Ruthie all right? Is she breathing OK? So I turned the doorknob quietly and looked into her room. I don't feel I have to worry as much anymore. Ruthie looked fine, sleeping calmly..peaceful, content. I glanced to the foot of the bed and saw Sam, also sleeping, but a dozen pounds of comfort to me. At first I almost didn't see just beyond Sam, but then I did. Opaque, like a mist, lay the collie, crouched quietly sleeping, His face turned to me and I felt his devoted eyes tell me "Thank you. Let me love your child too." And his gaze returned to Ruthie...faithful, obedient, eternal in his devotion, My child's newest friend... The ghost at the foot of the bed.
background on this story by author Andy Laheny: