A Weekly Cyberlog

After several weeks on the road, I am “resting” for a few days.  That doesn’t mean I won’t actually
“run into some undetectable woman” since I do seem to find them in the oddest places, but I am
not actively searching for anyone’s hiding place or story.  I reflect on the past few years of traveling
for 5-6 months at a time, and realize that if I can do this and get such results, that across the
country, there are thousands of very functional homeless people living out of their vehicles as well
as those improbable places that one can only imagine.  This Cyberlog will focus on some of the
really unusual places in which I have been told by my informants that they find “perfect” places to
hide their alternative lifestyle.

I think the most peculiar place that I have found to be used as a “dwelling” place is a cemetery.
I’m referring now to ample, very expensive cemeteries in which there are more than just the usual-
sized headstones and normal-sized monuments.  Think in terms of large and (probably) wealthy
families who have created “timelines” so that generations can utilize a place for their deceased–
or, perhaps, just the occasional person or family who has the desire and means to build such an
outstanding memorial that it will always be noticed.  Certainly, a famous person (such as a movie
star, president, or hero) would be appropriate for same, but those are special circumstances...
and not proliferating the country.  There must be such crypts in rural cemeteries, but all I have
noticed so far are elaborate and tall monuments in those areas.  In 1986, I interviewed Mary, who
lived in California.  She spent a lot of time going to funerals and then sleeping in a crypt.  I will
relate her story and then compare it to Kathy’s experience in the 2000s.

“If I die, at least I’ll be in the right place [referring to funeral homes].  I feel sort of good going
to all of the services for dead people.  They’re not me!  I can sit and listen to all the speeches
and sometimes there’s good food afterwards.  I have tin foil, so I just take what I can save
for later. Funeral services aren’t like weddings; you don’t need an invitation.  You just
pretend you knew the person.  It’s better if you know beforehand whether it’s a male or
female!  I once made an awful mistake; it was real embarrassing.  But people at these things
aren’t looking for anyone there who doesn’t belong, so if you run out of words, you can just
put a hanky over your face and move away.  The funeral home staffs just think I’m a kooky
old gal who likes going to these things.   I’m not the only one who does this, but I think I’m
the only one who has to....Some of the cemeteries are really very pleasant.  Trees, flowers,
shade when it’s hot, and you can just sit on the grass and stay for hours beside a grave-
stone.  I sleep there most days, just sort of curled-up next to a stone, sometimes with a
blanket around me.  No one dares to bother you.  And you can be sure that the same
people don’t show up very often, so no one complains that there’s a loiterer about.  And
I guess this sounds gruesome to some, but I found a large crypt that I can get into, and it
is fine for bad weather.  I don’t mind the dead; they never bother anybody.  It’s the live
people that scare me....”(Mary, age 67, 1986 in CA)

On the other hand, I met Kathy in 2001 when I stopped to eat a brown-bag  lunch at what I thought
was a lovely park in a preserved area.  The cemetery was partly hidden, separated by trees, and
it didn’t occur to me that they were connected.  There was a fountain with flowers around it about
50 yards from where I was sitting, and after eating, I wandered over to the fountain, frankly, to wash
my hands of the peanut butter and strawberry jam.  On the other side of the large fountain (a
rectangular one with figures of mythological creatures inside of the short tiled wall), was a woman
rinsing a piece of clothing.  We were both shaken for a moment, for it was about the most quiet
place in which I’ve ever been.  I remember that I didn’t even hear birds and there were a lot of trees.
 I don’t recall now who spoke first, but we both laughed and said something about the solitude.
And then I realized that while I could see my car, I didn’t see hers.  I waited for a bit, wondering where
she would go, but she wouldn’t leave.  Finally, I asked where she was parked.  She replied that her
car was on the other side of the cemetery.  I commented that it was an unusually beautiful cemetery.
She agreed and said something that I didn’t understand at the time about it being very suitable as
well.  My curiosity was aroused, but I went back to my car and just began to drive around the area
until I could find the front of the cemetery.  Wonderfully-detailed wrought iron gates welcomed every-
one, and immediately, I could see that there were very few plain headstones and a lot of “buildings”
which I recognized as crypts.  On the outskirts of a major city, this had to be suburban heaven for the
deceased.  In fact, I thought it would make a great golf course with a huge amount of hazards (or
whatever they call the places that create havoc in the game).  There was a van parked what would
be a block away and a couple of cars near the van, but I didn’t see anyone at all. At least, not until I
walked around for awhile myself, and then I did see a woman putting flowers against a gravestone.
I couldn’t find the lady from the fountain.  I went back to the entrance and turned once more.  She
was climbing out of a large, elegant crypt and when she looked my way, she saw me staring at her.
She didn’t run away; I walked over to her and this is what she let me record:

“...and I was forgetting what it was like to be a real woman, working at my business and then

working at my home, and going to the beauty parlor once a month for a
know, all of the stuff that I took for granted for so many years....Suddenly, my husband had
left me and I discovered that he took all of our savings.  The only thing he left with me was a
monster of a mortgage....I made a decent salary as a Savings and Loan manager, well, the

assistant, but I did almost all of the difficult work....My luck was bad that year.  The S & L
had problems and finally closed, leaving a lot of people out of their savings, and all of the

employees out of work.  Most got other jobs, but I was getting too old for the kind of salary
I was pulling down, and after a year of unemployment, I realized that I just wasn’t going to
be employed again.  I tried agencies, but age was against me, and I don’t really have
a pretty face and body to help with getting a job....I had to let the house go and I moved in
with a friend who also had a husband who left her, but it just didn’t work out....I rented a
room until I had practically nothing left, and then I had to put everything I could into the van
and just live from it.  Actually, the front seat goes way back and sleeping wasn’t bad for
awhile, but what about the rest of my life?....I went into the Welfare office and was sickened.
They were about to make me take a couple of hundred dollars a month and vouchers for
some cheesy motel room and food stamps.  I heard the questions about my personal life
and saw the view of what life would be like attached to the government and maybe those
terrible shelters for people who are street people.  I knew I could not live that way....I
wandered around the city for a few months, in and out of malls and grocery stores, and
sat in libraries for hours reading, but I had no real place to put my things and sleep when
it was so hot in the summertime....One day I just saw the shady places here and sat all
day in the cool.  Not one person ever came by.  So, I pulled out my old sleeping bag from
my vacation days and just bedded down behind one of those buildings.  The next day, it
was very hot and humid, and I was searching for a cool place, and there was an opening
in what I now know is a crypt.  I don’t know whether someone started to build it and didn’t
finish or whether someone will show up and I’ll be found....It’s been maybe six months now,
and it’s dry, cool, and I can put all of my stuff in like it was a storage place.  There’s room
for me to stretch out in my sleeping bag, and who’s going to bother me at night in a
cemetery?....If I’m caught by the owner, I doubt if anyone would put me in jail, but I’m aware
of the fact that I’m probably trespassing.  If no one cares, there isn’t anything I can destroy
here, so I’ll stay until I find something better....It is rather warm in the winter, and no snow
comes in, so I’ll wash out my things in the fountain and do my usual city things...and then
come back here to sleep....” (Kathy, age 61, 2001 in MA)

I never thought I’d meet another woman who found her alternative lifestyle in a convent.  In 1975,
I met Gwen while traveling in Maine.  Her story is in my first book, Shadow Women: Homeless
Women’s Survival Stories, and I will repeat it here.  After Gwen’s story, I will relate to you a
recent meeting with Dina.

“These are unusually nice women, even if they are a bit peculiar.  They aren’t supposed to
go outside–for anything.  But they need someone to do certain things in the outside world,
and one day a special woman saw me lying on a bench in the park and started talking to
me.  She said that I could come and stay in one of the out buildings and they would provide
food and necessities if I would do a lot of their errands....I had never known about people
who live like this, but it is a heaven-made solution for me.  I don’t have a home or any means
of support, and I was thinking about how I’d have to kill myself soon when she came along.
I still don’t have anything, but I sort of feel proud that I’m doing something for them and I
certainly get a place to sleep safely and food from them....I gave them some ideas about
making cakes and selling them at town fairs, and I get to man the table and keep some of
the money–which isn’t much, of course.  Then I barter for other things with the other women
manning tables, and I don’t feel left out of life entirely now.  I wouldn’t ever want to go back
to a regular life again; this is peaceful and I feel sort of content....I’d join the order if they’d
let me....I know that there’s one woman who does belong who is lying about her commit-
ment just to stay, but I won’t ever tell on her.  She confided to me one day when I found her
slipping out a gate to get to a doctor.  That’s not done; they have a doctor come in.  Anyway,
she told me how she plotted to get in so she’d have a place to live. More power to her.
If I’d thought of it, I’d do it too.” (Gwen, age 39, 1975 in Maine)
I met Dina recently as I was passing through an isolated area in MA.  I thought I was heading south-
east to meet a friend, but I have a terrible sense of direction, and without signage, I’m usually lost
and have to backtrack or go miles out of my way.  In this case, I was heading northwest, and couldn’t
quite understand why I was heading into what seemed to be about-to-be mountainous territory.  I had
noted part of a tall stone building atop a hill with an old metal sign which was partially obscured by
trees, signifying that the Sisters of (something) lived there.  My mind just placed it in the convent
category.  In the nearest town, I went into the bakery–for directions and rolls (I eat a lot of sand-
wiches as I travel; I never know where I’ll find a [decent] restaurant)-- and in a corner of the shop
was a paper sign saying that they carried the Sisters’ candies for sale.  The basket was almost
empty.  In my experience, monastery and convent goodies are usually of excellent quality. I
asked the proprietor if their candies (I particularly love caramel anything) were good, and she
responded quickly with a nod.  I asked if there were any more since there were only a few left,
and she was hesitant in her reply.  Paraphrased, it was, “For years we’ve had to pick up, but
it’s a long drive for our old delivery man to do now, and we had to notify the sisters that this year
they should find a way to get them here.  They didn’t have anyone who left the convent, so we
were expecting not to have any to sell.  Just a couple of weeks ago, a woman showed up from
the convent with this basket full of candies.  She certainly didn’t look like a nun.  And she de-
finitely didn’t sound like one.  Maybe they hired someone to do their out-of-convent things for
them.”  My mind flew to the story (from Gwen)–one which was so unusual that I can’t forget her
“ingenuity.”  I asked other people in town about the convent and the new deliverer, but no one
had any further information.  Since my time is my own, and I was already way off course, I
drove the miles back to the convent and went up a very neglected driveway.  It needed re-
paving and trees were overhanging the narrow road, often with limbs drooping right to the
driveway.  I figured if I’m ever going to have car trouble, this was the epitome of places to
break down!  However, I made it up and around hairpin curves and found a deteriorating stone
building that was surrounded by a tall antique fence.  It took me a few minutes to find the small
gateway to a “box.”  I rang a bell and finally, a squeaky little window slid open and I was staring
at the oldest face I’ve ever seen.  I asked if I could speak to the woman who had delivered the
candies to the bakery shop in town, and the window slammed shut.  I wondered if I’d ever see
it open again.  A younger face appeared (she had to be over 80) and she asked me why I
wanted to see the woman.  For a minute, I couldn’t even think of an excuse, and then I “winged-
it” and said she had dropped something in the shop and maybe it was hers.  Naturally, I couldn’t
get away that easily, for the woman asked what had been dropped.  I just said wallet since
that’s what is always said in the movies!  The window slammed shut again, but did re-open
with yet another face.  That nun said I was to go to the very end of the driveway and the
woman would meet me there.  Dina was standing outside a door which was apparently the
back of a garage.  She asked what I wanted since she hadn’t dropped anything.  I quickly told
her the basics of Gwen’s experience with “homelessness” and my background and just asked
if it meant anything to her.  She was reluctant at first to say more than it did, indeed, strike a
cord.  I pursued the topic and finally she agreed to tell me how she arrived at the convent.
“I’m hoping you’ll never give my location away, because this is the last stop in life for me.  If
a reporter shows up here, I’m as good as dead....I was married to a sweet man, but he had
grown up with a bad group of guys and got mixed up with a bank robbery....He didn’t do the
robbery, but he was hanging out with them and heard them planning it and the law says he
had to report it....After a couple of years, I thought he was in the clear, and then one of the
guys really made the news for another bank robbery.  He got caught and told the police that
Tommy had done it.  Well, he didn’t, but the cops came looking for him and he ran.  The
guy who done the job said that Tommy hid the money, and the cops and an insurance
company were looking for it....I swore I knew nothing about those guys anymore and
Tommy hadn’t done it, but there was always some guy trailing me....I didn’t hear from him
for weeks and didn’t even know if he was alive....I got a job in a clothing store, and then in
a laundry, and then as a waitress, but I couldn’t make enough to really live on.  I guess I’m
just not good at anything.  The months went by and then years, and whether he’s alive or
not, it doesn’t matter to me anymore.  I don’t have a future.... I went to church one Sunday,
uh, not because I’m religious, but there was a wedding after, and I figured there might be
some food I could take....I was on Welfare and hated it.  I listened to a nun telling someone
about this old broken down convent that was doomed to be shut down and needed don-
ations.  I think she was sent by the church to get donations, but I don’t know....From the
story she was telling, I figured that it had to be not far from where we once hid out in the
mountains, and one day I just put gas in my car and headed for this area....I asked around
and found out where this was....I went to the front and said I was homeless and could I do
anything for them in exchange for a room and some food.... The Mother Superior talked
to me for a long time and said I wasn’t a sinner and she would let me have one of their
unused rooms if I would do all of their chores outside the convent....They’ve been kind
to me considering the way I’ve been so unreligious, but I do things for them that they need.
They are good cooks, and when I saw they were making candy for one shop, I suggested
they sell their sweets to other towns.  They used to have some guy pick up the stuff, but
he got old and sick and it was too long a trip, so they were going to lose the only real
money they made.  I told the Mother Superior that if we went into a bigger candy business,
I’d be the one who did all the delivering and getting the money at the end of the week
and whatever they needed....She said because I wasn’t a sinner, she could trust me with
the money and everything else, and now we’re getting the kitchen into shape for a much
bigger range of candies, and I think we can keep this place alive.  It’s made me feel alive
too.  I’ve finally found something I can do good....”(Dina, age 44, 2003 in MA)

I don’t have photos this week since I would never reveal any clue as to the whereabouts of either
Kathy’s cemetery (which is atypical of cemeteries) or Dina’s convent (which is definitely distinctive).
If nothing else, I remain true to my promises not to reveal anything that will ruin an alternative lifestyle....


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© 2003 Marjorie Bard.  All Rights Reserved.
This can in no way be copied or distributed.