What lives in graveyards
Updated: Mar 24
Beneath the bluebells and the mosses
The first graveyard I played in was in Pollokshaws. Before they razed it to the ground, Pollokshaws was all concrete towers, graffiti and wind tunnels. Those are new buildings in the picture below, quite different from those of my youth.
It was known to us as simply The Graveyard. Apparently, its title is Kirk Lane cemetery, though back then there were no tidy signs or guides. The high flats flanked it on two sides, an anachronistic blip in an otherwise concrete landscape.
The feral child, holes in my pockets, all wind-wild hair and raggedy laces, would leap, scream, tumble from one stone to the next with my grubby compatriots, and clamber the crumbling stone walls with scrabbling fingers.
The dead didn’t seem to mind the disrespect.
But there were many graveyards in the dear, green place. My friend James ofttimes lived within an actual graveyard, his father being the caretaker for the one in Thornliebank (not to be mistaken for Eastwood Old discussed below). Once, I lost track of the time when I was visiting James at his father's house. We’d been watching The Princess Bride for the first time and I fell instantly obsessed with the farm boy and his golden locks and “as you wish” whisper. So much so that it was pitch-dark when it came time for leaving. And James couldn’t - or wouldn’t - time has stolen that part of the recollection - walk me to the gate that led to the main road and the solace of other living humans.
The loud crunch of my feet on gravel and my breath in my own ear remain as part of my recollection of that interminable walk. But I would not run for pride's and dignity's sake.
In my formative years, I wound my way through and around many gravestones, in many cemeteries, large and small. But the one near the estate we moved to after Pollokshaws left an impression.
After we left the damp chill of the high flats in the Shaws, we found ourselves in Eastwood scheme, off the Thornliebank Road. Not to be confused with posh Eastwood near Giffnock. The scheme was girt by a river, railroad, road and cemetery on all sides. There were no through roads just one way in, one way out, down Garvock Drive.
As you entered Eastwood scheme by the Thornliebank Road, Eastwood Old Cemetery was to the left, beyond the nursery school and park.
I’ve known Jane since we met in that self-same nursery school together, aged about 2. Lacking a closer alternative, my mother sent me there. I can recall my Grandpa Tennent escorting me there some mornings, steering me up the slippery pavements in the driving rain.
Some of Jane’s close family members were buried at Eastwood Old Cemetery, so I was her companion on her visits several times. Over the years, I visited fairly often with various other friends, paramours and family members too. I remember it as a place of weathered, antiquated gravestones shivering under grey Scottish skies, and achingly derelict mausoleums. The most poignant were the simplest markers, with a few words etched, the most heartbreaking a little slab with the words "Goodnight Mother".
My dreams have often been vivid and strange, I dream sometimes of swimming through space. And now and then I dreamt of the graveyard two streets away from our home in Eastwood scheme. I was always unconsciously aware of its boundaries, though you could not see it from our flat in Fieldhead Drive. But I knew it was there, as you know if the house wherein you’re sitting, typing, with your back to the door is empty. Or not.
Neighbouring the graveyard was a small park with a roundabout, and whenever we played there, or rather draped ourselves across the playthings in the apathetic manner of teenagers, my eyes would habitually swivel towards its confines. Wherever we sat, my face and body inevitably would turn, as a flower heliotroping towards the sun, till I was pointed again due graveyard.
At some point, someone always seemed to suggest we visit the Graveyard.
There was a broken patch of decaying wall near the park. We'd scale its rough edges in the way of casual youth, to circumvent the trek around to the main gates. Once inside the hush was immediate. Imposing walls, moss and the damp bouquet of loamy earth and elderly trees. And graves, graves, everywhere. You could lie on the soft ground beneath a canopy of leaves and discuss in whispers both the living and the dead. In corners and pockets you could sip illicit cider and steal kisses amongst the chilly stones. You could wander its lanes in the whispering gloom, occasionally splashing through more sunlit areas.
What happened that day was nothing. Really. Nothing really happened, I have often told myself at 2am. It just felt as though I narrowly avoided something strange and terrible. I'd wandered to the cemetery alone. Unable to scare up an accomplice, I ambled disconsolately, and let my bored feet lead me to my unexamined fascination. I walked all the way around to the high gates, not so brash about scrambling over broken boulders on my own. At first, sticking to the outer edges and sunlit areas, all was well. But it came into my mind to visit the very back of the graveyard, where I'd seldom been, or seen.
And it occurred to me, as I idly perused lichen coated headstones, that I could no longer hear a thing. No birds telling their tiny tales, no sighing of the breeze in the tall trees. No cars or movement on the busy road so close by. Just - nothing. The soil smelled rich and dark. There was silence. And I realised that I was standing on the bones of my ancestors. For the first time really realised it.
A slow prickling at the back of my neck urged departure. Don't show you're spooked I chided myself. But show who? I felt as though someone was watching. Appraising. But there was nobody. Nobody.
Attempting to feign nonchalance, I started anxiously back towards the gates. But this time I wasn't able to maintain my dignity. My feet began to fly beneath me of their own accord. A panicked backward glance revealed nothing, again, nothing at all. I picked up my pace, and ran as though someone was slinking behind, and gathering speed. Light as air and longing to meet me.
I pelted towards the gates as though hell was behind me and fled through them as though sanctuary waited on the other side. But I didn't stop, and I didn't look back until I was a long away down the road. I was afraid of spying a yearning face. A visitor disappointed that I'd cut my stay short.
What lives amongst the bones and the stones, buried beneath the moss and bluebells? Does something stir, murmuring, awaiting a willing ear?
Though that was 35 or more years ago, I never returned to find out.
Perhaps, one day, I will.
Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, March 2021 Fair winds, and a following sea,
Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.