Stand Up and Be Counted
by Alicia Beckwith
It was so hard for me to turn away from the young waif, but my own family was waiting. I nodded my head at her as I passed. She didn’t try to stop me. But deep inside, I knew I had to come back to her.
For the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t get that child out of my mind. Her sad eyes kept haunting me, begging me to stay.
After work on a Friday afternoon as the sun was setting far over the Strong campus, I donned my coat, walked the six flights of steps down to the ground level over to my car. This time, I had a winter coat on to stop the evening’s chill. I knew the stop at the cemetery would require any warmth I could get.
Snow had fallen again. The cemetery roads had been plowed, but the pathway to the Vick family plot was deep with snow as I trudged my way, thankful for my boots.
There she is! She’s coming over to me. She seems so intent! I wonder what she’ll say, and how she’ll say it. I’m feeling those butterflies darting around again! How thin she is! And her eyes are sunken in.
The child approached with an outstretched arm. “Don’t go, please. I want to talk to you.” Her eyes were begging me, just as before. Like my great grandmother, this vision spoke without uttering a word. I felt a chill as she came closer. This time, I wasn’t as afraid. I still felt uneasy, but didn’t feel that flight or fight struggle inside.
I waited for her to begin not wanting to break the spell that seemed to exist.
“My name is Sarah. The grave marker where I now live is across the street with my parents. I’ve seen you when you come to visit with your family.”
“Hello, Sarah,” I replied. I remained silent waiting for her to continue.
“I’ve watched you and feel in my heart that you’re troubled. I see it in your eyes when you look over at my resting place.”
“I’m surprised you would know! You’re right. I can’t understand why someone hasn’t dug that tree out. The roots are growing right down into where you lie resting.”
“While you’re right, there’s a reason for the tree being there. Let me explain.”
“You see, my family lived in New York City. My two sisters and I worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed. “That’s the factory that burned down, isn’t it?”
“Yes. My two sisters, Anna and Luba, and I worked there. I was one of the children who would crawl under the machines to untangle the wool or pick up things that the workers dropped. It was hard sometimes because there were so many piles of wool on the floor. The owners didn’t sweep up often, and we didn’t have a broom. They worked at a fantastic pace to meet their quota. Anyway, when the fire started, we ran to the door and were clawing at it, but it wouldn’t open. None of us could get out because the owners had locked the door. Some of the girls made it to the elevator. None of us did. We all perished. I couldn’t bring myself to jump out the window. It was too scary. The smoke was awful. It filled my lungs. I coughed and coughed. I couldn’t breathe. It was so dark! I looked for my sisters but couldn’t find them because the smoke was so thick. I cried out their names, but the noise from the flames was so loud they couldn’t hear me. When I couldn’t stand any longer, I fell to the ground and died.”
“That was so awful! I’m so sorry!” I wiped a tear from my cheek.
“My family was devastated. They finally couldn’t live in New York City any longer, so they packed all their belongings and moved to Rochester where they had relatives. When they saved enough money, they brought my sisters and me to Rochester and had us buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery. My parents are buried here with me.”
“Yes, I saw that. I’m so glad you’re all together. It must have been terrible for all of you.”
“Yes, it was. When we were buried, my parents decided to plant a tree on my grave as a symbol of life. They didn’t do my sisters’ graves with a tree, just mine, because I was the youngest. They planted a bush near their graves.”
“Now I understand. What a tribute to you. I’m so glad you shared your story with me. I really feel so much better about it now.”
“I’m glad you were able to see and hear me. So many people visit here, but I wasn’t able to reach out to any of them, just you. Please don’t worry about me any longer. I’m fine and am resting in peace now. I’m much happier now that I could talk with you.”
I turned away and started walking to my parents’ grave.