Thursday, March 29, 2007

In memoriam -- 21st century style

Some time ago, while doing genealogical research, I came across a webpage dedicated to one of my great-great grandfathers. The site included a photo of his gravestone, at the bottom of which was engraved this phrase:

1st Line: Gone but not for
2nd Line: gotten

Huh? Did the person who carved this gravestone at the end of the 18th century think "forgotten" was two words, or did he just not plan ahead? Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking if I'd had the job of carving a permanent inscription on stone, I might have laid out the whole message with a piece of chalk before I started cutting.


It's not the stone I want to talk about but the phrase, "gone but not forgotten," which is apparently a timeless sentiment. As a matter of fact, I saw it again today, painted professionally in large script--stretched out across the width of the dark-tinted rear window of a pimped-out ride.

If you think "Gone But Not Forgotten" is a catchy slogan for a fast, flashy automobile, I'd have to agree with you. That's what I thought it was, too, but I was mistaken.

Centered directly below "Gone But Not Forgotten" was a saucer-sized white dove, and on each side of the dove was a different nickname. (At least I hope they were nicknames; one of them was "Toxic.") Below each name, in the same meticulous script, was a date of birth and a date of death. These two people died about two years apart, both at relatively early ages. I hope they were young enough that they'd have thought it cool to have a car window dedicated to their memory.

The car, which appeared by its squared-off shape to be an '80s model, was in immaculate condition with a gleaming new paint job. The bottom third was the same bright white as the memorial message, and the rest was cherry red. The windows, all tinted way darker than I believe the law allows, provided the touch of black that HGTV designers tell us is needed to "anchor" a good design. And the dazzling spinners on the wheels? Well, they probably cost more than the whole rest of the car.

Shoe-polish messages on car windows are common in this sports-minded part of the country. Usually it's "Go Tigers!!!" or "We're No. 1," so I didn't pay much attention to this one at first. Then I did a double take.

I don't know what to think about this. Part of me thinks, Oh, how sad, he misses his loved ones so much that he painted their names on his car. And another part of me is thinking, HOLY CRAP! HE PAINTED THEIR NAMES ON HIS CAR!?!

I wonder if people in my great-great-grandfather's day ever painted the dearly departed's epitaph on the back end of a wagon and drove it around from farm to farm and into town and back. I like to think not.


  1. Hey Velvet, You should come hang out at my local Coffee stop... it is a biker hangout on Thursdays and about a year ago a 19 year old known as Shrek drove his bike into a tree.

    I was amazed at how many of the bikers in this area have Shrek's birth / death dates and name tattooed on various body parts. One young woman even had his face included.

    I'm with you.. just give me a stone and leave the rest alone!

  2. Oh trust me, the living gangsters look at the memorial with pride and hope that when they fall ...WHEN ...they fall they'll get the same sign of respect as being plastered on the back of a pimped out ride with wheels that cost more than the car itself. It's a shame that's what they hope for when there is so much more out there to put real hope in. But when you live in a war zone like many of them do, it is hard to see hope past a bullet.

    Strangely enough there are other "war zones" where the bullets aren't as obvious and that take down little girls and little boys every day. Their faces are on posters not cars or they're the face of your neighbor or friend. Like those in zones where you can see the bullets there are many in zones where they can't and just as many fall. They too lose hope but for those of us who survived we look to a new hope of never passing along these acts of war.

    I'm sure this wasn't the upbeat reply one might expect but its what came to mind when reading this. It my opinion it all boils down to what a person sees is in their future, hope or lack there of.


  3. me again....
    about the grave marker...I think I would have chalked it in first too. No need in having a misspelled word left for decades to wind up on a blog so the world can see it. That's the kind of timeless mistake I'd make.

    I know your loved one is under there going ... Damn you! Get back here and do this right! I told you to stay in school! Why didn't we have grave marker spell check when I was alive?!!!


  4. Holly, on some level the tattoo makes more sense to me. At least a tattoo is a more personal reminder of the dearly departed, unlike the one I saw on the automobile. That one had all the subtlety of sandwich-board advertising.

    Austin, there's not much gang activity around here (knock on wood), but that's exactly what this car made me think of. You made some very good points about hope and the lack thereof.

    As for gravestone errors, my maternal grandmother's birthdate is wrong on hers (one year off--thanks, Daddy!). It drives me nuts, but Mammaw would have said, "Oh, don't say anything, he did the best he could."

  5. I just saw something like that on the back of a truck. I thought it an odd place as well. But then again, my friend had the years of Dads birth and death tattooed on his arm. He adored Dad. Anyway, we express ourselves in ways that are meaningful to us or that we understand. I think "gone but not for gotten" is poetically purposeful as it gives pause and makes you think of your Grandfather, and now us think. Which makes "not fogotten" quite true, doesn't it?

  6. I wonder if the person who carved the tombstone thought about the people who would see it years later, and wonder about him and his work ethic, lol.

    I think I would have liked your Mammaw!

  7. The car owner probably doesn't own anything else. Maybe if all he had was a wagon he'd have decorated it the same way. If he hadn't anything, maybe he'd have tatooed his memorial on his body. It is something that he remembers for many choose not to do so.

  8. gone but not forgotton, as soon as people know us die we are forgotton. soon we fade into history.

  9. Velvet, I envy all your genealogy work. I love that you can find a gravestone for your great-great grandfather, even misspelled as it is. My great-greats were refugees and left with the clothes on their backs - no papers, photos, documents - nothing to go on and no one who took any family history down after. The trauma was such that it was all better off forgotten.

    Maybe some things ARE better off forgotten - although I would still love to know the family history. Even all the place names of where my family came from have been changed - I can't even go to a map and see where they used to live.

    As for the car - well, not something I would do to honor my loved ones - but hey, every culture is different.

  10. I think they carved the initials in a tree in Grandfather's day or in the stone on a cliff side. Much more daring than writing them on the car.

    The stone mason probably did not care as much for Grandpa and the one who paid him to carve the words. Usually it is done and up at the grave before you see it. I have oft wondered what is they made a mistake...would they fix it. When I was getting them to put Dads info on his stone..I told him about 20 times over and over...not wanting him to get it wrong, but if he did, he had my money, to get it right I would have probably had to sue him!

    I love the rocks piled on the graves in the old grave yards to keep the spirits in and the wolves from the body!

    I saw a sign on a big black truck that said 'just divorced' and a week later it was still there in white shoe polish! What a celebration!

  11. Duly Inspired, if you've seen something like this, too, maybe it's a growing trend I've just never noticed before. As I said above to Holly, a tattoo seems more personal--which, to me at least, translates into more respectful. And I like the phrase "poetically purposeful." I think I'm gonna put that spin on my own mistakes from now own.

    Marion, I imagine the tombstone carver's thoughts were on pleasing the family of the deceased and getting his pay, not what people would say about his work many years later. Which makes me wonder about the permanence of the words we write on the Internet. How long will my own mistakes be out there for people to scrutinize?

    Annie, your point is valid--but only up to a point. I suspect you're right that the owner of this car would have decorated whatever he had. I wasn't making a judgment about the quality of what he owned, but I WAS being judgmental (I'll admit it) about such an ostentatious display of commemorative information. It would be an equal source of consternation--for ME personally--to see such a memorial displayed on the side of a twenty-million-dollar yacht.

    I also agree with you that remembering, however one does it, is better than not remembering. I don't believe most people forget a life that's lost, and I don't believe failure to decorate one's property (or body) shows a failure to remember.

    I understand that my preference for subtle, understated memorials is probably skewed by my introverted, private nature, and that not everybody feels the same.

    For what it's worth, I've never put a bumper sticker on my car, either. No doubt my feelings about all of this come from the same place--wherever that is.

    Patsy, we may be forgotten for a time, but don't discount the efforts of people like you, your sisters, myself, and the other genealogists among us. I've spent years trying to piece together the puzzle of my family, and I know you've done the same. Each time I've fit a new name into that puzzle, I've thought about the person who bore that name. I've wondered about the story of his life or hers. I've thought about where they lived and how they lived, their happy times and their heartaches. In that sense, they're gone, yes, but not forgotten.

    Sunflower, it sounds as if there's quite a story to your family's history, and it must be disappointing not to be able to find it. Who knows? Maybe you'll be the one to write down everything that's known about your family up to this point, add all your existing relatives to it, and build on it through time so your descendants will have better information than you've had.

    Sister-Three, you say you've wondered if the tombstone carvers would fix a mistake if they made one, and I can tell you that at least some of them do. In fact, my next-door neighbor has a fishpond in her backyard that's surrounded by chunks of beautiful marble that she bought for next-to-nothing from a local tombstone company. The chunks of marble are broken pieces of tombstones that didn't make the cut, and some of the chunks have name fragments on them. Fortunately, my neighbor has them arranged so the names don't show.

  12. Hmm, I left a comment last night and it isn't here. I can't remember all of what I said except people grieve in different ways, and I've seen one of those memorials on a car's rear window not too long ago. Seemed a little ghoulish to me, but hey, it's their car, they can put what they want on the rear window.

  13. I have seen several cars that have these 'memorials' on them. Not my thing, but, I'm of a different age. Old enough to say, "Those kids! What will they think of next?!" Personally, I'd rather see them do this - than write the F word all over everything. lol

  14. Janet, yup, you're right! I can't complain as long as they aren't painting stuff on my car.

    Jackie, if car-window memorials are popping up all over the country, I guess I'll get used to them. It did bring out a latent "old-fogeyness" I didn't realize was lurking beneath my live-and-let-live exterior.


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