A Trip Down Ancestry Lane—ft. my mother, a graveyard, and a toy car

Last week, as life decided to pile up on us, mom, Anna, and I thought it high time we shirked our responsibilities and went out for a mid-afternoon Starbucks.

We’re really not lazy, I promise. (Well, actually, I might be, but that’s a different subject.) But this time of year is our book business’s busiest season, and with four huge sales within the next few weeks looming over her head (among other things), my mother was having a very bad day.

Starbucks makes everything better, right?


*ignores the glowering health books*

So we went and had a drive, just us girls, and got drinks. On our way out of the Starbucks parking lot, mom, for whatever reason, turned onto the wrong road. This wasn’t terribly shocking, considering that my mother is the kind of person who regularly forgets what she’s doing as she does it, let alone how to find her way home in a town she’s lived in her entire life. Neither Anna or I would put it past her to turn the wrong way and continue going the wrong way for at least ten minutes before realizing she wasn’t getting anywhere.

But as Anna tentatively broached the subject of us possibly heading in the wrong direction, mom only hunched down over the steering wheel and muttered something to the effect of, “I can go where I want.”

(Did I mention she was having a bad day?)

Surprisingly though, she actually did know where she was going—despite the fact that it wasn’t in the remote vicinity of home. A few moments down the road, and we were turning again—right into a graveyard.

Because obviously, that’s where you go when you want to cheer up.

I’m still not quite sure why we ended up there, or what purpose my dear mother was trying to serve. But hey, since we were there, I figured I might as well put the experience to good use and steal some names while I had the chance. Which I promptly set about doing. This is why I’m a writer, guys. Only writers can get away with completely strange and slightly morbid things (like naming characters after the deceased) without society looking down on them.

And in case you want to know which poor hapless victim took the spot of honor in my list of potential character names…



There is a person who’s last name is Skeggs.

Or at least, there used to be.

I feel like I should probably end this line of discussion before someone from a 19th century novel scolds me for speaking ill of the dead.

ANYWAY. We drove around the cemetery for a bit, reading the names and trying to find the oldest grave (1883, y’all), and random stuff like that. We live in a small town, and a lot of the family names go waaay back. More than one grave belonged to a Watkins or a Day or an Unglesbee, and more than one grave dated as far back to the 1800s. Mom somehow managed to find all her old teachers from her highschool days, and there was much reminiscing and history lessoning as she related all the quirks and crazy things that went on back in her childhood.

And you know what? Despite my somewhat callous theft of names, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness while driving through that field brimming with buried lives. In another hundred years, I’ll probably be the same way. No one will remember me. No one will care. Everything I worked for will be reduced to letters on a tombstone, everything I lived for rotting away with me in the ground. As the Bible so aptly puts it…

What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.

~Ecclesiastes 1:3-4~

Those people in that graveyard, the things they did… they’re gone. Done. Finished. Their lives are over and forgotten, a crumbling tombstone the only reminder that they ever existed. People strive so hard to “conquer life.” But in the long run, what does it get us? Every one of those souls conquered life in their own way. The only problem is, there’s no one left to remember it. Everything they achieved in life—what is it now?


A name. A dash between two years. A heap of moldering, mossy rock.

Vanity of vanities.

And that’s when I saw it.

It wasn’t a huge grave—not like some of those whoop-de-doo monuments people have, with their faces etched into it and everything. It wasn’t huge, and it wasn’t flashy. But it was… different.


This girl only lived to be five years old. But despite the fact that she died almost thirty years ago, people still put flowers on her grave. See the toy car? See the little white shell? Things she must have liked. This little girl touched the people around so much, they still come to her grave and put nice things on it—things that tell a story the letters on her tombstone can only hope to achieve.

Love. Family. Childlike joy. Dancing, playing, seashells picked up on the beach.

God’s special gift.

Our lives are not defined by what we do or accomplish. You know, “There’s nothing new under the sun…” and all that stuff. In another hundred years, no one’s going to care whether we won that contest or saved up for that car or bought a house at eighteen or got a promotion at work. We’re gonna be dead, and it’s not going to matter.

Our lives are defined by the people we touch. By the service we do in God’s name, by the spiritual treasure that we are setting aside in Heaven. Despite popular belief, death is not the end of the road for us—only our worldly lives. And when I think about the people around me, I know that when they pass, I’m not going to remember the things they accomplished. I’m going to remember who they were, and how they touched me and the world.

My grandmother, always making me grilled cheeses and taking me to craft shops so we can find artsy stuff and paint rocks together.

My grandfather, driving me to and fro from co-op, telling me stories of the old days and giving me Ritz crackers.

My father’s parents, surviving the Nazi invasion of Poland and immigrating to America, not only making it possible for my parents to meet, but for me to be born, period.

My parents, and their untiring, unceasing drive to serve Jesus, and impart that desire in their children. My dad, and his seventy-two hats and thirty-two popcorn poppers that he swears he’s going to sell on Ebay some day. My mom, and her crazed cackle and wacky delight in the strangest things.

These people have coated my life so thoroughly with their fingerprints, it will be impossible for me to forget them. It will be impossible for my children to forget them, because by golly, I’ll be telling stories of them until I’m ninety-five. They affected the world—not by what they accomplished and achieved, but by who they are, and how they touched those around them.

That will last far longer than letters on a gravestone.

So yup. There’s my 1,200 words of the day. Starts out silly, ends up surprisingly deep. You never know what an average post around here is going to entail. Happy Thursday, guys, and may your life be…


Full of glitter.

Yeah, I’m going.



30 thoughts on “A Trip Down Ancestry Lane—ft. my mother, a graveyard, and a toy car

  1. WOW. I didn’t know you could be so deep. Good job on this one, it’s amazing. Kinda even like a Bible Study too. *pats your back*
    Ok, seriously though. That little girl’s going to be in heaven and we can actually ask her what her life was like (random.)
    Great job, Sarah!


  2. I am hearbroken and deeply moved, but at the same time looking forward to reading about the life and times of your potential character Skeggs.


  3. Sarah,
    As always, you have reminded me of something I shouldn’t have forgotten. I have contemplated the shortness of life, and it encourages me to truly make a mark (and the good kind of mark, not the infamous kind) before it’s over. Sometimes I regretfully try to do this with my own merit and skill, such as by writing a best seller that becomes a classic over time, but even then, my life will be lost in oblivion, “a dash between two years” as you so poetically put it. Only my characters’ lives will live on at best, and believe it or not, I am not really living my life out through their adventures. Thanks for that reminder. (And the glitter…blessing…thing…)

    I was a little disappointed that this post was not on the survey answers. I am REALLY looking forward to that one! But this one was good too.

    (I wonder what that girl did or said or was like to be loved so much…)



    1. This is something I have to remind myself of pretty often as well—particularly, as you mentioned yourself, in the area of becoming a world famous author… *sigh* Important stuff is so hard to learn. Anyway, glad this could be an encouragement to you.

      *squeaks* Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry. The survey thing is coming, but there’s something that I need to figure out about something else before that happens.

      As cryptic as that statement is. 😬


  4. Wow…wonderful. I’ve been thinking along these lines since I visited my great-grandmother in the nursing home a few days ago.
    “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
    ‭‭James‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭NIV‬‬


  5. Oh, my goodness, what a wonderful story! I almost felt like crying about the girl’s grave — SO moving. ❤


    1. I KNOW, RIGHT? I almost missed seeing it, but mom happened to stop the car right in front of it, and then… it was so sweet and sad and strangely awing. I love partially immortalizing these things in my posts…


  6. Skeggs reminded me of the character Kiggs, a guardsman from Rachel Hartman’s fantasy Serapina.
    On another note, though, I find it deeply true and slightly disappointing that eventually the world will totally forget us. That is, except by those we do touch while we’re here. No one’s going to remember how many things we had, but they will reminisce about what we did…anyway


    1. Huh. Never read that, though I hear it’s good.

      Yeah, sadly, the world will eventually forget us, and I find it rather frustrating… I WANT MY MEMORY TO BE IMMORTAL.

      Apparently, no one cares. 😂


  7. *whispers* I love this. Thank you for that sweet and somber reminder of life and death, joy and sorrow, memories past and memories yet to be made. Graveyards are some of my favorite places to go, for that very reason.
    …and maybe names. Maybe.


  8. I love this, Sarah! It wasn’t AS snarky as some of your other writing, but it somehow had the same amount of impact and awesomeness anyway. *much applause*


    1. Thank you! Yeah, every once in a blue moon, my snark runs out, and I have to try seriousness on for size. I’m happy to announce that the encounters generally end with very few casualties.


  9. After your last sentence you should have put: *mic drop* because you’ve done it again! Taken “ordinary”, “common place” occurrences from real life, made them into an enjoyable post, and managed to make us laugh, have something deep to think about, and make our eyes water.
    Wow, that’s so cool about your dad’s parents. I’m so glad that things worked out like they did! 🙂


  10. I love graveyards too. We live out in the middle of nowhere, but there’s two within walking distance. One still has a church with it. Some of the stones in both of them are old enough the inscriptions are in Norwegian instead of English, and they’re marble rather than granite (so they’re rather lichen-eaten). They’re very good for getting names, and because they’re little country ones they’re not fixed up and kept perfectly trimmed and full of fake flowers, so they’re comfortable to be in. (Hey, I write historical fiction, I get to be comfortable around dead people. It’s part of the job description.)

    And every time you can kill a snake in a graveyard is good too. Crushing the serpent’s head and all in a place full of people who’ve died because of the curse — lovely poetic justice.

    Last year my sister and I went up to one on either Holy Saturday or Saturday of Easter week, and sang Handel’s “Since By Man Came Death” in it. I can recommend it, if nobody’s driving by to give you weird looks (another advantage of being in the middle of nowhere).


  11. I feel compelled to assert that, contrary to popular belief, I always know exactly where I am and exactly where I am going.



  12. I think this is my very favorite post of yours, Sarah! 💜 It’s amazing how you can effortlessly move from the humorous to the profound, leaving us with a smile and a tear. ❤️

    FYI, Starbucks does not make everything better if they put coffee in your drink. 😑 😜


  13. This entire post reminds me of Ecclesiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.”
    You truly have laid it to heart!


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