Medway Resident Brings Headstones, and History, Back to LifeSep 28, 2020 02:15PM ● By Judy O'Gara
Medway resident Don Bowden-Texera spent the time in which he was furloughed to care for scores of long-neglected headstones at Oakland Cemetery. Reviving the memories of those buried there, from babies to veterans, has helped him reach a healthier mindset.
On May first, Don Bowden-Texera got furloughed from his job as an endoscopy technician at Metrowest Medical Center in Framingham. He tried the usual – bingewatching Netflix shows, but soon found himself walking down a dark path toward depression.
“I found my solace walking in the cemetery,” says Don, who has lived within walking distance of Oakland Cemetery for nearly 25 years. “I remember walking through the cemetery just before Memorial Day. I thought I’d go see how spruced up the place was getting for that holiday. That’s when I noticed that it wasn’t really being cared for at all.”
Some of the memorial markers were covered in moss and lichen, and many of the footstones were barely visible several inches under where grass was enveloping them.
“I was becoming depressed thinking of all the souls around the world being lost to this pandemic, and I got sad thinking of how all of those people laid to rest in Oakland Cemetery had once been loved, and were of importance in the lives of their families, as well as in the building of this community. Now, all that remained of them was head and foot stones, and even their foot stones were disappearing under the sod. Everyone should continue to be remembered and respected.”
Don set out to honor the memories of those laid to rest at Oakland Cemetery. Understanding that the headstones needed to be appropriately cared for, he researched YouTube for the right way to clean them and what products to use.
“I’m kind of an emotional person, and I can pour it out in the work I am doing (at the cemetery). I didn’t want to damage anything,” he says. “They’re tombstones, but they’re also historic documents, recordings.” Many of the stones could no longer be read. He used D/2, a biological solution that is also used at Arlington National Cemetery, to clean the stones, and he carefully worked to unearth hundreds (457 after he went back and counted) of footstones hidden underneath the sod.
Roy Young, a member of the cemetery care committee of Medway Village Church, says, “I’m very impressed by Don’s attitude and his desire to do that even to begin with. He was doing it on his own, digging around each and every grave marker, many partially or completely buried by years of neglect. He took the initiative.” Young had known the stones needed work and had been hoping some local Scout may have embarked on it as an Eagle Scout project, but it had never happened. “My daughter’s stone is up there, and a lot of those stones were just totally covered, some were eight inches down. It’s just amazing to me to see his dedication. He had no connection to the church, no connection to the cemetery, just a neighbor who wanted to do the right thing.”
Bowden-Texera found the work rewarding, taking time to get to know each marker and a little bit about each person buried there. “My little ceremonial routine became cleaning the stone, and then reading the names out loud; just because so much time had passed since that had happened. It was kind of like saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Welcome back’ to someone that had been gone too long.”
This baby’s grave had been so long-neglected that it was completely buried under sod. Don carefully dug out this and 456 other footstones, so that these souls could be remembered.
Don spent the rest of the spring, and even after he went back to work, the summer, working at the cemetery. And he’s still at it, now working with the Oakland Cemetery Committee at the next step in the process, raising up flat, uncovered footstones to ground level.
“The transformation is amazing…stones once black, covered with tree sap, algae, lichen, unreadable, have been washed and scrubbed and restored. Many families long forgotten who haven’t been visited for years and years, as generations have come and gone, are now being remembered once again and are telling their stories and family history,” wrote Young in the Medway Village Church newsletter, continuing
“We encourage you to take a walk through the cemetery, pause and reflect and if you bump into Don cleaning a grave stone give him a big ‘thanks’ on behalf of the Medway Village Church family.”
“Doing this work has put my mind in a better, healthier place, and it has pulled me out of the downward spiral I was heading into,” says Don. “The best part is that I know it’s appreciated by so many people.”