A Good Grave is Hard to Find

Many years ago I made a car trip across the country with a college classmate.  Before the trip, I read a book of short stories by Flannery O’Connor.  Not the wisest choice of reading material, as one of the stories was “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”  If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s the tale of a typical American family – bickering parents, snotty kids, befuddled grandma – who set out on a car trip.  Grandma wants to revisit a childhood memory, but a wrong turn leads to a horrifying situation that proves fatal.  That story haunted me across the United States, although we never made a wrong turn and we made it safely to California.

So there I was on a recent sunny afternoon, safely buckled into the back seat of the OZmobile as it cruised through California gold country in search of adventures.  We were in Plymouth, a tiny town with a quaint main street.  It looked pretty but something felt…weird.  Have you ever found yourself in a strange town that seemed to be hiding dark secrets behind its cheery facade?  Yeah, that’s the feeling we got.  There was something foreboding about this place.  Wire had a theory.

“It’s the Fish People.  They live underground and come out at night.”

Okay, so the underground Fish People of Plymouth were watching us, waiting for us to make a wrong turn and get lost.  We’d had a fantastic morning and could’ve called it quits just then, but dammit, there was one more place I wanted to see – and it was somewhere in this godforsaken town.  We were going to find it…before dark, of course.

Back in 1995, my friend Chris and I had stumbled upon a tiny cemetery in Plymouth.  It was just three or four headstones surrounded by a white picket fence on a hillside overlooking a public pool.  Just like the grandma in Flannery O’Connor’s story, I could picture the place in my mind and I thought I knew exactly where to go.

“Turn left near the edge of town and look for the pool.  The cemetery’s right there!”  I told Lor as she drove past Plymouth’s antique shops and restaurants.  As we reached the end of the commercial district she made a left turn and we promptly found ourselves in a tangle of residential streets with no pool in sight.  We passed a playground and a sign advertising the Amador County Fair.  We were lost.

Lost!  In the land of the Fish People!  Oh, if only there were some kind of hand-held device that could give us directions!

And that’s where our story took a different turn than the ill-fated vacationing family’s.  Too bad they didn’t have a smartphone.  We discovered we were practically across the street from the pool, and as we slowly drove down the street the tiny cemetery came into view on the hillside ahead of us.

Things didn’t match up with my memories, though.  I could’ve sworn Chris and I had seen the cemetery from above, and we just walked down the barren hillside to reach it.  Now I was confused – a large, old, barnlike building sat at the top of the hill and we had to step over a chain draped across the path to get onto the property.  The path led up to the big, unadorned building.  We wondered what we were heading into – the clubhouse of the Fish People?  A church that practiced human sacrifice?  Turned out it was nothing more sinister than the Odd Fellows hall.  A small vegetable garden, inexplicably abandoned, turned to dust nearby.  The tiny cemetery was within reach, but something was different.  It was then that I realized the welcoming white picket fence had been replaced with a spike-topped black metal fence that growled “keep out.”

1995 2011

The gate was unlocked, though.  Inside those prison bars were four small plots, but only three had stones.  Two men and a married couple, all deceased between January 1878 and December 1879, shared this little burial ground.  Their relationship was a mystery.  The stones didn’t tell us much and the place felt a little too exposed and vulnerable so we didn’t stay long.  We were visible to anyone passing by on the street below, and we had no good reason for being there other than our curiosity.

Back up the hill, past the hulking IOOF hall, down the road and into the car we went.  As we piled into the OZmobile we heard the distinctive plaintive tones of a harmonica being played nearby.  But where?  We saw nobody.  The notes seemed to float on the air around us, like the background music of a horror movie.  We locked the car doors and Lor waited for a guy on an electric bicycle to ride by before pulling out of the parking space.  As he buzzed past, toting a fishing pole and a backpack, we noticed another bicycle coming toward us.  The two bikes were the only vehicles on the street, so we were stunned – speechless, really – when they collided head-on.  How the hell does THAT happen?  We sat in the car and watched as the two men fell in a heap on the street.  The bicycle’s front wheel was trashed but the electric bike seemed okay.  We expected the pair to exchange phone numbers but to our surprise they walked off together down a side street.  Did they know each other?  Was this a case of a Fish Person being hunted down and caught in the street in broad daylight?  This was a mystery the OZ team chose not to investigate.  We got the hell out of there.

A short time later, making our escape from haunted Plymouth on Highway 49, Yellow Electric Bike Guy (minus his fishing pole) flew by us and turned left down a side road.  His job was done, and so was ours.

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