Around the Nation
Mon February 17, 2014
Digging Graves The Old-Fashioned Way: 'This Ain't No Easy Job'
Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 8:54 am
It's windy. It's winter. There's a funeral in three days, and the churchyard in rural Addison, Maine, is frozen solid. Everard Hall is hard at work, digging graves.
"No, this ain't no easy job, tell ya. You've got to have a lot of determination, a lot of willpower. And you can't be lazy," he says.
In his nearly 70 years, no one has ever accused him of that.
Gravedigging is an activity many would be loath to contemplate, let alone do. Today most of the heavy digging is done by backhoes, and with embalming now a standard practice, it's rare even to find someone who performs wintertime burials in the frozen North. But Hall insists on doing things the old-fashioned way.
"I'm a go-getter. The Lord gave me the strength to work. I'm going to work."
The folks who call on him tend to be old-fashioned, too, he says. They don't want undertakers keeping their loved ones' bodies in cold storage until the spring thaw, and they don't want that for themselves.
"Talking with a lady the other day," he recalls, "and she said, 'Everard, I want you to do my grave. I want you to come down here and get my grave done. I don't care if it's snowing or raining or what it is.'
"She says, 'Everard, I don't want to be put in no darned refrigerator,' she says, 'and I want you to come down and do my grave.' I said, 'Doris, I'll be down there if it's snowing, hail, sleet. You'll be put in the ground.' "
'I Remember All Of Them'
Hall has been digging graves with a pickax and a shovel for 48 years; he's even fashioned a custom tool with a flat chopping blade that he jokingly calls "The Everard." It helps him cut through frozen soil and fashion the grave into a perfect rectangle, 8 feet long, 3 feet wide and 4 1/2 feet deep.
Hall was born into a family of 12 kids. Rural life in the 1940s meant hauling your own water, chopping your own wood and shooting your own dinner. Two of the babies died, and Hall's mother lost the use of her legs after the final delivery. He had to grow up fast.
"I quit eighth grade to earn money to feed the family."
He took a job with a stonecutter who made tombs and monuments. After a few years, the local undertaker noticed Hall and asked if he could help with the gravedigging. From there, Hall found work all over Downeast Maine. Now, after almost half a century, Hall has buried enough people to populate a small town.
"I'd say 2,500, rough estimate," he says. "That's a lot of holes. I've dug graves when it was 10 below zero and the wind blowing and snowing, and I've dug graves when it was 90 degrees and hotter than hell.
"I remember all of them," he says.
He has photo albums with each grave immortalized on film to prove it. But still, some of them have been special.
"I buried my mother, my father, my grandfather, and two aunts and two uncles. And I buried my sister Marilyn."
What about his grave?
"Oh, I hope to get it laid out the way I want it myself. Someday I'll go up to the cemetery, I'll show you where my lot is; I know where I'm going. I got a cross on my grave with my initials on it — a white cross, says EDH, Everard Dallas Hall, right where I'm going."
He says he'll start digging his grave this summer, just 12 miles away, near his childhood home on Maine's Narraguagus Bay. He may be contemplating his own resting place now, but that doesn't mean he's ready to stop. Hall will only stop digging graves when, as he puts it, he is "called home."
"God knows, I don't know. He knows. I'm here to do his job. I'm working for the Lord. He gives me the strength to do the work that I do. I've got a God-given talent: I'm a gravedigger."