At 72 years old, Cliff Walden was my favorite philosophic cemetery guard. Four days a week, he’d put on his blue uniform, kiss his wife, Evelyn goodbye, and head for the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles County where he worked as a uniformed attendant.

     For more than 15 years Cliff had seen “what dying does to the survivors. It does more than make them cry. It makes then dress up. It gives them sad faces. It makes them walk slow, like they are carrying a bunch of bowling balls. I see very few of them laughing and kidding around.”

     Cliff had seen more than his share of somber processions of “fancy limos, jalopies, hearses, mourners, flowers, caskets. Once I did see bunches of balloons. Different colors. There was a lot of young people having a good time. I wondered what was going on. Maybe they inherited a lot of money. I don’t know.

     “I don’t get in anybody’s way, but you do see a lot of sad folks. I feel for them. But being in my profession, you’re kind of emotionally removed from it all. The only time I ever get a knot in my throat is when they bury a child. Evelyn and me lost our little boy in ’41.

     “We do have some famous people here. We have Betty Grable’s ashes. You know who she was, don’t you? The world War II pinup girl all the GIs were in love with? Every time I pass her crypt, I think: Wouldn’t it be nice if they fastened a pair of pretty legs out of marble and attached it to the front of that crypt?

     “Then we have Gypsy Rose Lee’s ashes. Hoot Gibson and his wife, they’re buried right here. He was an old cowboy movie star. Yeah, we have a lot of famous ones.”

     Cliff and his wife had been married for 52 years. He remembered the day they met in their hometown Decatur, Illinois. “It was September 13, 1936. Me and a friend pulled up in front of Evelyn’s house in this old Plymouth and honked the horn. I told my friend, ‘If one of them’s wearing glasses, I’m grabbing the other.’

Sure enough, one was wearing glasses, so I grabbed Evelyn. How was I to know that she was hiding her glasses in her pocketbook?”

     That same evening, Cliff won a bet. “I bet my friend that I would kiss my blind date less than 20 minutes after we first met. I won that bet hands down!” he laughed. “I was the first and last boy she ever kissed. Evelyn was a very naive and innocent girl in those days. Of course, I changed all that!”

     They were married two months after that first kiss.

     What did he learn about life working at a cemetery?

     “Sooner or later, everybody dies,” he said with a shrug. “That includes you, me, Betty Grable, even the president of the United States.

     “That’s life!” Cliff concluded with a second shrug.

     — Boots LeBaron

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