My name is Stacey Gossling and Decorah, Iowa has been my home for 24 years. My husband is originally from the area, I just married into it. My family moved around a lot for my father’s job. I’ve lived in Harvard, Mass., Clifton Park, New York, Spring, Texas and I went to college in Fremont, Nebraska. My husband and I have two children, Nick and Chloe, they both attend Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. We own a small family friendly neighborhood restaurant named, The Family Table.
I have lots of people ask me how did I get started cleaning gravestones? Years ago, I found a box of old photos in the back of my mom’s closet. I asked who the people in these photos were? My mom responded, “your family”. Huh?? What was she talking about? I guess it was the first time I ever wondered who am I? I mean really…..who am I, who came before me, my parents, and my grandparents? I had absolutely no idea past a couple of my great grandparents who else was in my past. Whose shoulders do I stand on today? What happened to my family in the past and where did they come from? I remember both my great grandmother’s and that was about it. My one great grandmother was divorced when my grandma was very little. I never even knew what her husband’s name was. I had to ask my mom! I felt so disconnected from my family and how I got to this place in my life. My family was always small. I had 2 sisters and 2 Grandmother’s and one step grandfather. But, both my parents were only children and their mother’s were both only children. But, after digging around in the box of photos I discovered I had a very big family!! There were all these photos from farms, family picnics, weddings, funerals, and old store fronts. I did have family, these were MY people!! And I wanted to know everything I could about them.
So, that’s how it all started….a box of old photos. But, that lead me to wandering around in cemeteries. I remember when I was little visiting my Grandmother in New Jersey. At Easter, we always went to the cemeteries to put out flowers. The cemeteries were huge! Acres and acres of gravestones. My sisters and I would run around peeking in the elaborate mausoleums. They always were intriguing and beautiful. And as most family historians say, “I just wish I had listened to my Grandmother’s stories a little better”. But, when you’re young you don’t think those things are that important..
One fall day I wandered into a cemetery that was overgrown with weeds and brush. Small paths were being mowed to each stone and that was it. I thought it was sad that this place was such a mess. It made me step back and think, I could clean this up and help out. That’s when I discovered my county actually had a pioneer cemetery commission. So, I joined the group and started my education on the proper method of tending to historic gravestones. I learned the “do no harm” technique from one of the leading cemetery preservationists in the country. And many people on the cemetery commission are very knowledgeable about the areas cemeteries. Even though, I didn’t grow up here and none of my family is buried here (or so I thought, but that’s another story for another day) these markers belong to someone’s family. They may be like me and not live around here but, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. They may just may not know where family is buried and I believe one day they will be found. But, until they are discovered by a family member, it’s up to us that are around to care for them as if they were are own family.
Once I knew the correct way to clean a stone, I started cleaning Civil War soldiers stones in a local cemetery on my days off. Eventually, I had so many people ask me to clean a stone of a loved one that it led me to start my own gravestone cleaning business. I am a firm believer if you can’t do it the right way, don’t do it at all. It’s better to leave a stone alone than to do some kind of irreversible damage.