I went to visit dead people last weekend.
It was a journey I knew I would eventually take; yet one for which I was in no hurry.
My mom died in 1996; my dad in 2002. They are buried in my hometown of Vallejo, California, next to the closest person I had to a grandpa.
They call Vallejo the “gateway to the Napa Valley.” This term has always struck me as accurate, since Vallejo’s only claim to fame is quite appropriately the gateway to somewhere else.
Perhaps that’s one good reason why I hadn’t been to the graveyard since my dad died 13 years ago next week. I also hadn’t been to see my closest family friends, Elisabeth and Gene, who both passed away in 2013 without my knowing.
I was headed up to my “10+ a few” high school reunion so I figured I’d pack up all the beautiful stones my sons and I had been collecting over the past 19 years and go distribute them on the grave stones of the people I love.
First, I hit the St. Helena graveyard to visit Gene and Elisabeth. Their grave markers overlooked the scenery they cherished; their markers named the one most profound thing each of them had taught their sons. One was “compassion,” the other was “perseverance.” Both are deep and meaningful tributes.
I cried a lot, made some confessions and uttered some promises. A pesky bee indicated I had made enough fuss.
Then it was off to Vallejo driving through the beautiful wine country to visit my parents, Hella and Archie.
The graveyard was unkempt and brown, covered in tree limbs and pine needles that carpeted most markers. The area looked like a Halloween movie version of an old decrepit graveyard that ghosts visited during the dead of night fog and people rarely and reluctantly visited by day.
Thirteen years had also taken its toll on me. My vague recollection of where my parents were buried proved wrong. I drove up this path and that path, leaving the car parked here and there to sweep away dirt and needles from gravestones with my hands. None of those markers belonged to my parents.
After an hour, I called the funeral home. They expertly guided me with Google Maps to my mom’s gravestone. A flood of emotions hit me; not only to see the remembrance of her bronze marker after all these years…but to realize…that my dad was nowhere to be found. Yup, dead grass on both sides, not a marker for him in sight.
I laid my rocks on my mom’s stone, careful not to cover the holocaust survivor symbol engraved there. I quickly shed some tears, paid my respects to my adopted grandpa, and called my brother. “Dad’s nowhere!” I shrieked. “Didn’t the cemetery get the gravestone?!” Well, apparently not.
As my brother and I now strive to come up with a marker that does my dad proud after 13 years of only dead grass, a few meaningful things come to mind. His Lieutenant Colonel status in the military, his commission in the Navy designing the first nuclear submarines after WWII and his unwavering integrity. The stone will need to be bronze, since he believed in things that were built correctly to last, and it will need to be clean and well designed like his creations in the Army Corps of Engineers.
Funny how I cannot help but compare the look of an accurate legacy and lifetime that must fit onto a small square grave marker to a company’s logo and slogan.
After all, how can you squeeze a person’s lifetime—or the essence of an entire company culture, product and service line—into one graphic in such a contained space?
Both tasks force you to drill down to the absolute heart and soul of what that person—or that company—stands for, and then visually present it so the viewers easily get the idea. For the marker, it’s all about honoring what has passed. For the company, it’s all about honoring what’s alive and growing. Either way, it’s a tough and crucial visual message fit into a profoundly small area.
Perhaps that’s why really “seeing” and putting words and design to the soul of a person or a business is a unique art. As I embrace the task of creating that bronze square in an unkempt Vallejo graveyard; our team similarly embraces the crucial task of creating the perfect logo that speaks to the very essence of our clients and their companies.
It’s an honor to capture the heart and life of my dad on that marker.
And it’s a privilege to do the same on that 3 x 5 business card for the companies, schools and organizations DDCC is proud to call our clients.