One Quick Sprint to the Grave From Here on Out… Good Thing I Love Cemeteries!

It’s been a busy August!

So many things to catch up on!

The garden, as one recent visitor pointed out, “Isn’t really blog worthy” and so I will spare you. But just for the record since that comment was made- all the dead zinnias, all but one of the tomatoes, the eggplants, the sunflowers, and a multitude of weeds have been pulled out. It looks better but still not great so we’ll leave it at that. And they’re all still piled up because I don’t dare burn the dried stems and they surely won’t compost away in this dry heat. Come ON hurricanes- you’re our only hope for some rain these days!

We were out of town last weekend for what really was a glorious weekend away, to the small town of Castroville. It’s right outside of San Antonio and we’d actually stayed there once before too- heck, even in the same hotel! But it was a Groupon deal then, the hotel was under different owners, and it was… not as nice as it was this time. Nor as meaningful.

More about the Hillside Boutique Hotel here.

I didn’t take many pictures of the outside of the hotel- this is the view of the back from our room. Three hotel cats- one in this shot. I love me some hotel cats.

This time, well this time was different. Not only was there more reason to visit Castroville (more in a sec) and the hotel and restaurant were SO much better- but also this time we went with a purpose- someone round these here parts had to turn 40!

So to celebrate, my husband and I shipped the kids off to his Mom’s and headed out of town by ourselves on Friday after work. It was, let me just say now, one of the most spectacularly great weekends of my life. Simple, but so jam packed with joy… 10 of 10. Would recommend turning 40 again.

Now, it isn’t just the fact that it was a nice little getaway for the weekend, there was a real reason to go back to Castroville. You see, since that previous visit (five years ago maybe?) I’ve gotten into and have tracked back the family tree, and while I kinda knew there was a Castroville connection to the family- I didn’t know anything else about it. But these days- ho boy can we talk ancestors! So turns out my grandmother’s family traces back to some of the first settlers in Castroville. I have 3rd and 4th great- grandparents buried out there. And there has been a seed of an idea for a while that I’d like to go see their graves. But that’s too weird, right? Maybe? But I tentatively suggested it after my husband mentioned he wanted to do something for my birthday and he was all onboard! I was, and am still, so excited I got to do this.

We had the nicely still-sun-warmed pool to ourselves Friday night under the stars… it was magical and very Texas, if that makes sense. And not the use of the term many people would associate it with: not rowdy or boisterous- not a rhinestone or boot to be found. But it’s the Texas that I love- the long sight-lines, the warm breeze, the big sky, the palms and cactus and flowers nodding in the wind. The lights reflecting off the pool and rippling on the surface- HEAVEN. If there is ANYTHING better at grounding a person than floating in a warm pool, looking up at a cloudless night sky in a place you have hundreds of years of connection to- I don’t know what it would be.

It… I can’t even describe it- but it was a way to release it all, exist in the moment, and enjoy the length of your life that brought you there and that stretches in front of it too, and see the world as the good place it is, and how lucky I am to do all of it with my favorite person on the planet. That’s what it was like. (That’s gonna be one HELL of a Tripadvisor review!)

Now picture it all dark.

It felt like a gift and a full vacation, that evening in the pool- and it wasn’t even the reason for the visit!

The next morning we woke up and tried to get out to the cemetery before it got too hot- spoiler alert- there is no hope for that in August in Texas, but we at least tried. It was SO hot.

Extensive previous research (with a multitude of printouts I brought with me) and I knew that everybody was in one cemetery- St. Louis Cemetery… just a few blocks from the hotel and heading toward the center of town.

Full disclosure- one guy was in Zion Cemetery (the Lutheran cemetery) but that is in the middle of the larger Catholic St. Louis Cemetery, so count it as one cemetery complex. Interestingly his wife was buried pretty far from him over in the Catholic one.

Some of them in the very front rows. So like, they won a good spot for the rest of eternity, but it did mean they were some of the first to die…

Anna and her husband were on the first ship coming to the Castro settlement. Her husband survived the ocean crossing but died before they got to Castroville. She raised her four kids on her own, never remarried, and lived for many years after. This is a really small stone, and as far as I can translate says “rest in ashes” on the bottom
Another ancestor- and a unique headstone to me. Very French influence Alsatian, I guess because I’ve never seen anything like it in the German cemeteries I’ve been in before this one.

I won’t bore you with a play by play of the nine ancestor graves we found- but we found everyone we were looking for. I brought wildflower seeds and scattered them around their graves. It’s a way to bring flowers to the graves and to do it without fake flowers- I have a truly DEEP hatred of fake flowers.

Seemed like good choices. August isn’t the BEST time for seed scattering, but it had to do. (There was one lady who died on August 17th so she got some flower seeds too. Happy death day, lady!)

I remembered the seeds… but what I meant to bring and forgot was shells. Shells being a symbol of a pilgrimage to a grave I had really intended to bring some with me and leave one at each grave. I, oddly, did have ONE little shell in my wallet- and I knew exactly who it was going to go to: Katarina Droitcourt Conrad. (That specific shape of heart on the top of her headstone was EVERYWHERE in this cemetery.)

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Bottom says “with her two children”- she had 2 stillborn sons that must have been buried there too.

She was the first wife of my 3rd great grandfather, Joseph Conrad- and not my actual blood relative. But for some reason her story pulls at me. Born in Alsace- Lorraine, married at 16, two stillborn sons, and then died at 19, five days after the birth of her daughter. That is a hard life right there. Her daughter lived well into adulthood (if memory serves until she was 58).

It doesn’t convey in the picture but this headstone is MASSIVE- at least 5 feet tall. Joseph Conrad, with a 5 day old baby to care for (I’m sure he had help, but still) buried his wife, got that massive stone, and then didn’t remarry for 2 whole years- which seems like a long time for the world of early settlers. His next wife had 13 children, who all lived into adulthood, and that second wife was my actual blood relative.

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But it was Katarina who got the shell- I tucked it under an overhang on the headstone.

There were also the “normal” interesting things found in old cemeteries that I like looking at too.

The porcelain pictures:

She lived till 1958, but used a pic of herself from (by the dress) the early 1900s. The world changed a whole hell of a lot in that lady’s lifetime.

The unexplainable:

Stylistically you can just tell this was added well after her death. Also, it stands out like a sore thumb in this cemetery:  that pink granite is from around Fredricksburg, FAR away from Castroville. Wurzbach is a major street in San Antonio… so there is a story there somewhere.

Also unexplainable- all this poop on the ground! There were a couple of spots like this.. just randomly a ton of poop on the ground in concentration.

Poor Carl and Emilia Hitzfelder

And, after extensive research on the topic that I did later that day- turns out raccoons have latrines that they return to regularly! I NEVER would have known that if it wasn’t for stomping around a cemetery on my birthday!

When I mentioned the cemetery  visit to my uncle he told me he thought it was appropriate for the daughter and granddaughter of a proud family of gravediggers. And yup, that’s me.

I think it comes through in this slightly blurry shot- but it was a blissfully happy birthday!  (Why’s it gotta be the picture after the raccoon poop though? Who’s formatting this thing?!)

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