This past year, my family celebrated the Chinese holiday known as qingming (Tomb Sweeping Day.) This day occurs on the fifteenth day after the Spring Equinox on the Gregorian calendar. The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for Chinese to remember and honor their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, (joss) paper accessories, and/or libation to the ancestors. As we had done the past two years, my mother, my two brothers and I visit the graves of my great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my father (all from my father's side of the family) at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma.
It is a very somber and sad day as this is the second year since my father's passing. He did not want a plot like his ancestors. He wanted a cremation, so his ashes are sitting in a lovely ornate urn inside a building in the park. It's still very hard to look at that little picture of him in his forties celebrating a birthday. He had a great big smile that went from ear to ear. We brought some food for the ceremony on a little table in front of the shelf that held his urn and prayed. It is still hard on all of us, but especially hard for my mother.
I've been coming to this cemetery for most of my life ever since dad buried his great-grandfather here. I never knew him, and I sort of knew grandfather. He lived with the family off and on for a few years before he had to be put into a nursing home. When he passed away in 1982, my father was able to secure a plot within twenty feet of his grandfather, so it works out quite nicely.
My family has always had a hard time remembering where the graves are located. I finally came up with a working system that involved a water faucet that is located near the edge of the road. If I walked directly straight past this water faucet, I will eventually run into a grave marked with a little marble statuette of the Virgin Mary. To the left of this statuette is the grave of my great-grandfather. From this vantage point, if great-grandfather's tombstone is twelve o'clock, then grandfather's tombstone is two rows deep at about ten o'clock. It is a very plain rectangular shaped tombstone with his name on it. Thank god for left brain thinking. Of course, if something should ever happen to the Virgin Mary statuette, then we are lost.
After we do our praying, we usually linger around for a few moments to stand silently and pay our respects to the surrounding graves. This is usually the time when my brothers and I start to giggle uncontrollably at the gravestone of a guy named Wong Fuk Soo. It kills us every year.
Whenever the qingming holiday arrives, I am always reminded of a little odd situation that occurred one year. For years we would bring two bunches of flowers to put on the graves (one each for gf and ggf.) I was the man with the crowbar. Basically, I used the crowbar to dig a little hole next to the tombstone where we would plant the flowers. That was my duty for qingming for many years. One year, I had just finished planting a bunch of flowers next to grandfather's tombstone. My knee had locked up, so I had to place my hand on top of the tombstone to my right, and used it to brace against while I stood up. After I stood up, I heard a very loud thud! When I turned, I discovered that the tombstone I had leaned on had fallen over.
Now, it should be noted that honoring ancestors and the dead is a very big deal for the Chinese, especially during qingming. There are many things that one can do to celebrate qingming, but I'm pretty sure that knocking over a tombstone isn't one of them. I believe this is called "desecration." I like to call it "not my fault." I mean, what was going on with that gravestone? Geez, all I did was lean against it. C'mon, it could've happened to anyone, right?
Now, gravestones are heavier than they look so when this thing fell over, it landed with a very loud THUD. It was bad enough that I did this during qingming, but the two gentlemen standing twenty feet to my right heard it and gave me a stern look. I suppose I should count my blessings that the actual family that owned the stone was not present. Now, that would have made a really interesting situation. As it was, my father gave me a look and shook his head. My brother Ron just raised his eyebrows. My other brother Rick did a cartoonish double take with his mouth wide open. I knew what I did was pretty bad, so I tried to fix the situation by picking up the tombstone and stand it up again. It was at this point that I noticed that something was wrong with the base. It looked like it wasn't finished yet, so it was not ready to go into the ground. It was just standing there balancing on its own. When I tried to balance the tombstone to stand it straight up, it weebled and wobbled, and after a few seconds, fell over again with another loud THUD! I looked at my father again. This time he rolled his eyes and turned away. Ron did the same. Rick executed the same cartoonish double take with his mouth wider than before. I looked to my right and the two gentlemen were really giving me a dirty look. At that point, there was nothing more to do, so we got out of Colma as fast as we could. As we left Greenlawn Memorial Park, I counted my blessings that the family that owned the tombstone was not present. A blood feud is the last thing I need to worry about during qingming.