Cemetery Party: Honoring Mom (Finally) at Kingshill Cemetery, St. Croix
The sign outside the gates clearly states: “No alcoholic beverages allowed.” It’s a restriction as laughable as it is utterly unenforceable. These gates, you see, mark the entrance to Kingshill Cemetery on my home island of Saint Croix. Here, as elsewhere across the Caribbean and Latin America, a cemetery party is part of the culture.
Kingshill Cemetery has never been a prime party spot for me, though. Still, if there’s any one place where I always need a drink, it’s here. The reason: My Mother’s final resting place lies just inside those gates. Picking up some rum always precedes my paying respect.
On the second of my four trips to St. Croix in 2021, though, I found that a Kingshill cemetery party isn’t always BYOB.
This story actually starts in April during the first of my four 2021 trips back home. I was there for the usual work reasons – research, take loads of photos, get in adventures, and basically determine how to travel safely during the age of COVID.
Underlying my usual, though, was a very personal mission.
Properly Honor My Mother
I visit Mom’s grave during most of my STX trips. When I intended to do so on my last visit pre-pandemic (July 2019), though, I found that I could not be entirely 100% sure where she was.
The rather shameful problem: We, her surviving family, never got around to honoring her properly with a real headstone.
My brothers and I had discussed rectifying the slight several times over the years. Each time, though, life got in the way. Nothing happened.
None of us lived in Saint Croix anymore. Marriage, kids, careers, etc. It all kept us kicking the can of responsibility progressively down the road.
For 30+ years, the only thing marking my Mom’s final resting place was a bump post with the number 121 on it. On that July 2019 visit, though, all the numbers had worn off. For me, that was the last straw.
I immediately set about identifying the right people at the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Public Works to help me out. I got as far as Peggy Franco, an amazing know-everything/everyone clerk/receptionist who has to be the DPW’s MVP. After one quick conversation with her, I knew I’d be able to get the job done.
The World Stopped
COVID-19 put a year-long crimp in my plans. The minute I felt comfortable traveling again, though, I was on a plane back home and right back in front of Peggy.
Within a day she had me in touch with Vibert Monchery, a thin and affable guy from Saint Lucia who oversaw the cemetery. Mr. Monchery helped me locate the right plot and connected me with Eldon Rey at Divine Funeral Services to produce the headstone. Just like that, it was all happening. A wrong 30+ years in the making was quickly being made right!
About a month later, I happened to find myself back in St. Croix for another usual work trip. My itinerary was pretty jammed, but of course I made time to revisit Kingshill Cemetery to check the progress on my Mom’s grave. Mr. Monchery had told me via phone that the work should be just about completed while I was on-island.
What I found when I got there, though, was more cemetery party than work.
Impromptu Cemetery Party
A mason from St. Thomas who everyone knows as Boom was putting the final touches on my Mom’s gravestone. Nearby, a group of other men were packing up tools and grabbing a few cold ones from a mass of coolers wedged into the back of a white pickup truck.
The truck bar, they explained, is a staple of funerals held at Kingshill these days. The men, who work inside the cemetery, provide refreshment (alcoholic and non) to mourners attending funeral services. As the men had worked two funerals that day, truck bar was still fairly well-stocked when I arrived.
Mr. Monchery and Mr. Rey had told the men of my story; my quest to put things right for my Mother. They all knew who I was as I approached my Mom’s grave and welcomed me warmly.
We stood together at the bar truck for awhile enjoying the light afternoon breeze and some beastly cold beers. Much of the talk was about my Mom; who she was, how she came to St. Croix from Trinidad in the first place, her incredible roti…
We shared big laughs and smiles as we talked about my sons and nephews. How I hoped they’d all come to see my Mom’s grave, if only just to get some slight added sense of just how great the grandmother they’ll never know really was.
Helping Others Make Things Right
This got Boom and the other men talking about the scores of other unmarked graves.
Imagine if these other families could hear your story and know how easy it is to make things right.
And so, yeah, I’m sharing my story – this story – in hopes that it inspires others to make things right for the legacy of their long lost loved ones as well. It truly is a lot easier of a process than I ever would’ve thought.
If you’re lucky enough to run into a cemetery party at the end, of course, it’s just icing on the cake.
For anyone keen on following in my footsteps, drop me a line via our contact page and I’ll be happy to put you in touch with the right people.
Rest easy, Mom ❤️