On a bleak winter afternoon in early December, I set out to find Willa Cather’s grave at the Old Meeting House in Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire. By her own wish, the author was laid to rest near the site where she had often spent the autumn months and worked on many of her novels, including My Antonia.
After a few mishaps due to my confusion of the towns of Jaffrey and Jaffrey Center, and the total lack of signage identifying the Meeting House (yes, this is New England — if you don’t already know where you’re going, you shouldn’t be here), I found the magnificent old building and its small burying ground that looks out onto a view of Mount Monadnock.
The oldest marked grave on this site dates from 1777, and many of the stones are centuries old. Often tall and narrow, they lean at odd angles in the frost-humped ground.
Willa Cather’s grave stands alone in a corner, facing away from the meeting house and toward the mountain (as most of the gravestones do). The stone has weathered quite a bit in the past sixty-odd years, and the inscription was not easy to read in the dim light.
According to a sign near the entrance, the grave of Cather’s companion Edith Lewis was very nearby, but I didn’t see a stone. I took a guess at the location and scraped away some snow, and there it was.
Just as I was about to leave, a ray of sun broke through the clouds as the Meeting House clock tolled two, and the words on the stone were illuminated.
This still-unspoiled spot seems an appropriate resting place for Willa Cather, surrounded as it is by great natural beauty while also bearing witness to centuries of human striving and endeavor. I’m so glad that I finally made the pilgrimage to view it, and hope to return again to experience its peaceful spirit through the changing seasons.
Posted in honor of Willa Cather Reading Week, hosted by Heavenali