My mother sent this note to my sister and me a year ago:
"In 1984 when Poppa died, Memere and I planted flowers at his grave on Memorial Day weekend. I don't know if you both were there that year when we planted the flowers but you came to visit the grave with me. While you were wandering about looking at the tombstones you found two that bothered you. One was in the row in front of Poppa's grave to the left. There was a little tan brick laid on top of a grave with the name Amanda Maddren written on it in marker. You wondered if perhaps it was the grave of a little child or baby and the parents had no money for a stone. In the front row of that section of the cemetery, there was a stone with the name Congetta Thompson. She was born in 1932 and died in 1943. You were both so sad that a little 11 year old girl died. And you were both bothered that those two graves had no flowers. To sooth your feelings we got flowers and put them at both graves. Every year after, we placed flowers at the graves when I went to put them at Dad's grave. After a few years, the little brick was gone and I was no longer sure where it had been. However I continued to place flowers at Congetta's grave each year. I have done this for 26 years. I did so again this year.
I have always wondered about those two people and I have done many computer searches to no avail. Today I went to the office at the cemetery and asked about the two graves. It turns out that Amanda Maddren was not a child but an 84 year old lady from Portville. She was buried in 1959 and apparently someone wanted her remembered in 1984 and put that little brick there. The situation surrounding Congetta was a bit more mysterious. There was no person named Congetta Thompson in the cemetery. However, in that grave was buried an 11 year old girl named Congetta Bartolotto. The office manager was able to tell me that Congetta died of pneumonia and that she lived on Tompkins Street in Olean.
I went to the Olean Library and looked up obituaries. I did not find one for Amanda but did find Congetta's. Here it is:
Olean Girl Died Wednesday
Congetta Elizabeth Bartolotto died Wednesday evening (October 13, 1943) at the home of Mrs. Lenora Harris, 326 1/2 Tompkins St., with whom she made her home. She was born at Swains, New York, April 7, 1932, and had lived in Olean for nine years. Besides her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bartolotto, she is survived by one brother, Lewis. She attended St. Mary's Academic School. The body was removed to the Halwig Funeral Home where prayer services will be held Saturday Morning (October 16, 1943) at eight-thirty o'clock and at St. Mary of the Angels Church at nine o'clock. Burial will be in St. Bonaventure Cemetery.
So part of the mystery is solved but we still don't know the story why Congetta did not live with her parents and why her tombstone has a different last name and the date of death is one day off. I'm guessing that the stone was placed later on and the date was not remembered well.
I guess retirement gives me the opportunity to clear up things I've wondered about for 26 years.
Thank you both for the many years that you accompanied me to the cemetery to plant flowers and for the concern that you both had for two little abandoned graves.
I was nearly 11 when I stumbled across this grave. I remember sitting there for a long time chipping the lichen off the flat little headstone so it would be clean. I remember planting flowers each year. I remember playing in the graveyard with you, Congetta. You might say that I practiced Ancestor reverence long before I knew what it was. Isn't that true of so many of us in paganism? We can look back and say, "Oh hey, look. This was with me all along."
Two years ago, I visited Congetta's grave on one of my East Coast pilgrimages, and there was a little statue of a human girl and an angel girl praying together. My mom said, "Strangest thing. I found this statue on the ground in front of the grave, broken into three pieces, after the snow melted last year. I don't know who put it there, but I took the pieces home, your father glued it back together, and we put it back on the grave." Congetta's gift to us.
Congetta: you have been an Ancestress in the care of my family for as long as I can remember. We met when I was 11, and you will always be 11- it was the year before my breasts and bleeding, a year of powerful Maiden energy for me, and you were there. We both attended St. Mary's Academy. You died on the 13th, and I perform magic honoring the Queen of the Dead on the 13th of each month. These are the coincidences I know, and there are likely others I don't. Although you have not chosen to reveal all of the answers to the many mysteries surrounding your death, I have always found your presence in my life a comfort and a joy. I keep a vial of your graveyard dirt on my ancestral altar, and I remember you in all sacred ceremonies for the dead, as I will again tonight at our Samhain ritual. Thank you for being friend to a weird little girl who liked to play with the dead in cemeteries at the age of 11. Thank you for being the friend to that same little girl who is timeless within me, still playing in cemeteries. I remember you this season and every season with love.