Grave digging experience offers great experience, conversation starter

I spend way too many hours of my day in front of a mind-numbing computer screen, and it’s not by choice.

But as a writer, I better get used to the idea. In actuality I should count my lucky stars, because I could instead be gazing at the platen of a typewriter or blue line of a steno pad.

Despite my begrudging thanks, I still long for the days when I had a job that was fulfilling, delightful and made me feel alive – a grave digger.

Nothing cured a bad day like flipping a few feet of dirt over your shoulder and realizing that you’re luckier than the person who’s being put in the ground.

OK, confession: In my four summers working as a grave digger for my church, I only actually dug one grave.

It was a hole only a foot or so around and a couple of feet deep for the cremated remains of a baby, and to this day serves as one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done.

The rest of the time I spent weed whacking around headstones, dumping out garbage, shoveling fertilizer, clearing tree branches and chewing the fat.

All of which were ordinary, even mundane tasks that I shouldn’t have looked forward to every Saturday morning. But there were aspects about the job that made it extraordinary.

I had easily the coolest boss ever.

Mr. Bertino, a man in his 60s who lived less than a mile away from my house, put me in charge of a group of friends. He never asked questions, never barked orders – every task coming in the form of a polite request. Mr. Bertino trusted us to get our job done and we never disappointed him.

If it rained and we couldn’t work, he’d let us relax in the chapel before letting us go, but not before signing out for a full day’s work.

His wife was the only person who could rival his genuineness. Aside from throwing us end-of-the-summer pizza parties, she is responsible for any floral knowledge my friends and I have.

As we excavated all the gravestone flowers before the winter, she’d quiz us on mums and carnations before we were allowed to throw them away.

Working with my friends added another layer to an already awesome cake. We’d talk on a range of topics limited to sports and girls all the while getting the best tans of our lives. It made five or six hours seem like five or six minutes.

The ability to visit my grandparents’ graves every week made the job even better but was by no means the cherry on top.

The best part of our job was that we were damn good at it. We knew it and so did everybody else.

After our Super Bowl-esque holidays of Memorial and Veterans days, Mr. Bertino would be overwhelmed with compliments on how great the cemetery looked.

We felt like a crack-crew of graveyard specialists that could work miracles with weed whackers.

And that’s an experience we’ll all take to the grave.


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