In the Taylor Cemetery in Arizona, there is a rose granite headstone beneath a towering fir tree. On one side in the corner is carved a cowboy hat and spurs with the inscription, “See ya later” written beneath the picture. In the center, surrounded by flowers, is inscribed a poem, which reads:

As the rainbow spans
The darkened sky
And roses burst
From winter’s storms
As the dawn
Follows the empty night
So is our love born from sorrow
To inexpressible joy

On the other side there is a family of bears carved into the beautiful stone. One bear is holding a football, another a songbook. Each bear holds what he/she cherishes. There is a father bear and two mother bears. Father bear holds a guitar, and one mother bear holds a tiny baby. The other mother bear holds a pen and a writing book.

My name is carved on that stone as one of the mother bears. Reg, my husband, and I designed the stone shortly after we were married. His other wife, Mary, passed away, and he wanted to honor her grave with a beautiful headstone. Her maiden name was Blair, and her siblings often referred to each other as bears. That is why we requested bears when the headstone designers took the job. I wrote the poem, and Reg added the cowboy hat, spurs and the “See ya later.”

As years have passed, another little marker was added for our grandson who passed away 15 minutes after he was born, Gabriel Dale. Such a sweet little memory.

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Initially, it bothered me to see my name on a headstone in a cemetery. Even though we designed the double stone, put our names on it and hoped it would be years before we would be buried there, it still gave me an eerie feeling to see my name etched in the icy stone. Headstones are so final.

Each Memorial Day, we decorated the grave with flowers and talked of memories of Mary. Every time I walk by the graves of those who lie under that blanket of grass marked by the heavy stones, I think of the lives they led, how they have affected my choices and made life better for me, and I wonder about the carving I’m doing, as the Bible so aptly put it, “in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3 KJV). What are my actions etching indelibly on the lives of my children and grandchildren? Every day I’m writing my memoirs in the hearts of my family, friends and associates. They will not remember what I tell them. They will only remember what I do.

They will recall each kindness and gentle word. They will equally remember the things I’ve spoken in anger. When it’s all said and done, a picture will come into the minds of those I leave behind. It will be a picture that will be etched more clearly and carved more deeply than any headstone. It will be etched on the fleshy tables of their hearts.

My parents and grandparents are buried in a quaint little country cemetery in the mountains surrounded by tall pines and limestone hills. The headstones stand out from the dirt and pine needles.

On some graves, there are little flags waving with the announcement: “Here lies a veteran!” I can’t help remembering the thousands who gave up their homes, families and dreams of life to make sure America remained free.

Some stones are sandstone where the names are nearly eroded away by the wind and the rain. I squint to make out the names of those who first settled the area. Their faces were never in a photograph, and their only memory is the fact that they lived long ago when times were hard. Like the sandstone markers above their graves, they lived with the harsh elements and dug out a meager living in the face of incredible odds. Yet they left a town for their children to inhabit. They left a legacy of Christianity, humanity, and industry.

There are other graves – tiny ones, like our grandson, Gabriel. These graves belong to children whose lives were cut short. Those little ones never had a chance to leave a legacy. Yet they left their mark on the families they left behind. Mothers sat many nights with empty arms wishing their dreams had not been crushed. Fathers laid aside hammers and saws that crafted the cradles to weep for the emptiness that would never be filled. Yes, even the little ones did not leave without a trace. To stand above their graves, even today, evokes a pang of excruciating pity.

There are graves of those whose names I recognize: Lovine Porter Crandell, Claude Despain and Clara Longherst Tenney. Grandma Lovine was a widow for more than 50 years. She was the embodiment of charity. Her angel white hair and cherubic smile welcomed you with an embrace even before she reached you with her arms. You never left her house without something to eat. She prayed for you, loved you and made you feel that you were the grandest gift that had ever graced the earth.

My grandfather, Claude Despain, was a cowboy from the Old West. I loved to listen to his stories about the trail drives, Texas longhorns and days on the ranch. He always had an entourage of children around him because he always had Juicy Fruit gum in his pocket to share with his little friends and grandkids. He was an honest, hardworking man who always played fair with his associates. He raised five sons and five daughters who have left him grandchildren by the score. He was the kind of man who when someone stole something from him, he would say, “I guess they needed it more than I did.” His pockets were often empty, but his heart was generously filled with love.

Clara Longherst Tenney, a tiny lady who lived long before I was born, lies beneath the oak that shades our headstone. I know her because her children cared enough to write her history. She was a pioneer woman who lived in a house that was as big as my living room. Once, she had some visitors who stopped in about dinnertime. She set the table with her best trimmings. When the guests sat down to eat, she passed the plate of steaming parsnips. One of the gentlemen complained that he didn’t like parsnips. She said, “Have some salt and pepper then.” Parsnips were all they had to eat. She raised fine children. Her great grandson is my husband, Reg. Her tenacity and perseverance are evident in Reg and his children.

There are myriads of other graves whose names I recognize. Once they lived and breathed just like me. Every person left something for others to remember. Both my parents left memories etched in my heart. Memories of goodness and an example of Christlike love that inspire me to emulate them. My mother lived by the principle: “If there is a will, there is a way. You can go over it, under it or around it, but you can do it.” My father said, “It will all work out.” And it has.

As I walk through the cemetery and see my unfinished headstone, I wonder about my legacy. Will they remember the times I lost my temper over some trivial matter? Will they remember the lectures that lasted longer than the hugs? Will they remember tidbits of eternal wisdom I spoke often? Did I speak wisdom at all? Will they remember my smile and listening ear, or will they remember my face lit up by the light of my cell phone? What stories will they tell around the kitchen table or in passing conversations? Life is fragile for every one of us. We never know when we will lie beneath the 6-foot plot of grass marked by an icy stone.

Someday in the distant future, I hope when people walk through the Taylor Cemetery on Memorial Day, they will smile at the creativity of my headstone but see an unforgettable image of love in their minds. end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.