‘Unconsecrated Ground‘ was previously published in “Many Women Two Men, Stories & Poems”, Anthology. Pub: Dove Tale Press, Kitchener ON, 2001. Also published in “ROBERTSON Lineages & Memoirs – Genealogies For My Children & Theirs”
As I turned off the highway onto a gravel road winding through dense, Muskoka woods, I could not have imagined that the next hour would haunt me for years.
I was on a quest to find the village of Germania, where for years, my father enjoyed happy visits with his mother’s family.
Now, I pictured what it must have been like for my ancestors a century ago, a landscape riddled with rock, root and mud, treacherous to wagon and humanity. Near their community they would have constructed a corduroy road by felling trees, each about six inches in diameter and laying them side by side. This would have provided easier, but bumpy, passage.
It seemed isolated here, unlike the scenic lakes of the tourist haven a few miles to the west. I sucked in my breath at my first glimpse of Germania. Pride of ownership was clear by the scattering of neat, brick homes. On the right was a play-house size church and a quaint cemetery surrounded by chicken-wire fencing. A plaque beside the front door read, Germania German Lutheran Church, built 1876. So long ago, so many stories, I thought.
Although I had never been here before, I had a feeling of coming home as I parked my car on the grass in front of the church. I opened the wire-and-post gate to the left of the church and walked toward the graves. My heart fluttered like a hummingbird as I read the old headstones nestled in the grass. They were gray with rounded tops. They seemed natural in this place. Some tilted, giving them a look of weary permanence. Their weight in the lush green-blanketed soil was causing them to sink. Some were barely above ground. Others looking old and worn yet nevertheless managed to stand tall. I eagerly read and familiar names began to emerge. Annie Dietz, Minnie Dietz. The largest stone monument in the center of the cemetery was in the shape of a cross.
The fading words carved into the stone read;
DIETZ, Adam born July 25, 1832. Died June 11, 1907.
His wife Willimena, died May 24, 1901, age 66 years.
These were my great-grandparents. My father was the youngest of eight children and missed out on much of the family lore. He didn’t even know his grandparents’ names, knew them simply as Grandma and Grandpa Dietz. I had to learn if anyone nearby could tell me more about my family.
I walked across the street and knocked on the door of the brick bungalow. An elderly woman, trim and neat, opened the door. I explained my mission and asked if she knew anything about the cemetery and, more specifically, did she know anything about the Dietz family buried there. She smiled and introduced herself as Velda Gilbert.
“I knew the Dietz family when I was a child,” she said, pointing to where their farm had been across the street, just beyond the small wooden church.
Velda and I chatted like old friends, she reminiscing, me prompting the memories. She offered to take me through the cemetery and tell me what she knew. I said I had just seen the family headstones, but she assured me there was more to see. Velda led me to the far, southeast corner of the cemetery, a secluded area overgrown by grass and weeds and shaded by a large, old tree.
“I want to show you something,” she said, pushing grass away with her wrinkled,
misshapen hands. She revealed a curved-top gravestone sinking into the ground, difficult to
see. I knelt to read and moved my fingers over the roughly carved letters worn by a century
of wind and rain. If there was more lettering, it was now below ground level, but I could clearly read:
Katherine Dietz, 1903 aged 29 years.
The site of this stone, so alone and untended, felt eerie. That was how I learned of Katie’s headstone, far removed from the others, in the unconsecrated part of the cemetery. Ostracized in death.
“Everyone called her Katie.” said Velda.
I knew from Census records that Katie was my grandmother’s sister. My dad never knew of this aunt. Her name was never spoken in the family.
“I will tell you the story,” said Velda.
Katie lay on her side, her knees tucked near her chest, her hands clutched tightly under her chin, tears wetting the cotton pillow case. Weeks of worry and fear had left her with a numbing feeling of hopelessness.
“How could this have happened to me? I am twenty-nine years old. I should have a husband and a home of my own by now. My chances of that are forever gone. I fear what Papa, my family and even the neighbours will think of me. What can I do? I wish Mama was here. I need her.”
Katie’s mother died just two years earlier and was buried in the nearby cemetery. Katie still lived on the family farm with her father, Adam, her brother William who was two years younger, and Minnie, her 24-year-old sister.
The realization that there were changes within her dawned slowly. She did not know much about the intricacies of her body, nor of conception and pregnancy. Such topics were never discussed. Even her mother’s pregnancies years before had not been acknowledged until they were too large to hide. Married women sewed dresses in such a way as to camouflage their pregnancies. There were layers of gathered skirting across the back and sides, and a secret panel at the front to allow for the inevitability of a thickening waistline. This hid an early pregnancy and provided fashion flexibility when one dress was all a woman could afford.
Her body’s rhythm, its changes and needs were the extent of Katie’s enlightenment about her ‘private parts’ and their functioning. She thought ‘that part’ of the body was aptly named because she wondered about, and guessed at, thoughts too private to be voiced.
At first, denial soothed Katie when her consciousness began to admit the possibility of a child growing within. As days grew into weeks, fear became so invasive that she constantly felt smothered by the weight of worry.
Katie had always hated that time of the month. Years ago, some of the bold girls at school called it being on the rag. Katie’s rags were hidden in the back of her tiny, doorless cupboard. In a futile attempt to hide the tell-tale indications of their embarrassing use, they were folded neatly, stains turned in. Each month she scrubbed them, up and down, across the ribs of the washboard in an old metal scrub pail in the shed. Even lye soap and scalding water lugged from the wood stove, could not entirely fade the blurred crimson outlines.
She had always hated the messiness of this part of her body. And she hated the Purity Flour bags, cut up for this purpose. The rags bunched up between her legs and with each step, they schemed to escape their designated place inside her bloomers. With each step, the delicate skin of her inner thighs became painfully chafed.
As each day passed without needing her supply of rags, Katie’s horror increased. She prayed she would need to pull them from their hiding place. Even as she clutched her hands together, she knew within her soul that her prayer would not be answered.
Katie didn’t feel she could confide the horrible possibility of a pregnancy to her sister, Minnie, who had her own grief. Minnie had a deformed back. When she was a child, their older sister Carrie was pushing Minnie on the rope-and-board swing. The child fell off and landed the wrong way on a stump protruding from the ground. Life had been cruel to Minnie.
Nor could Katie burden her older sister Carrie, living in nearby Bracebridge, busy with her two small children and expecting her third in as many years. Besides there really was nothing to talk about. Being pregnant while a single woman was sinful, unacceptable. Everyone in this village and even surrounding villages would always think of her out-of-wedlock child as a bastard and many would not hesitate to use that cruel word. Katie herself would be shunned, her family humiliated. Going through with this pregnancy, in this place and time, was simply unthinkable.
Growing up, Katie had enjoyed much laughter and camaraderie within her family. Her parents had been honest, hard-working German immigrants who instilled in their children a high moral code, deeply felt Lutheran beliefs, a robust work ethic and self-discipline.
“I’ve let them all down.” Katie cringed, experiencing unbearable guilt and shame.
After weeks of fear, then hopelessness, she lay weeping on her bed without anywhere to turn.
Fall set in, bringing with it the chill of coming frost. Katie didn’t seem to notice. She left the farmhouse and crossed the fields where bales of hay were drying golden on this clear day. Pausing at her mother’s grave she touched the cool stone. Cowed by a numbing sadness and terror, she walked on. Tears dropped down her coat and blurred her view as she tripped through shorn hay and dense underbrush. With determination and a sense of purpose, Katie continued on until she reached the water. Without a pause at the water’s edge she waded out into the lake. Her dress and petticoats, her warm wool coat, the high practical leather shoes, served as an anchor that pulled her under the surface of the water.
Nov.29, 2013, see: “Unconsecrtted Ground 2 – Postscript to Katie 1903 . Good Blood . Wonders of www .” at …