For Margaret Lemanski, Christmas has been marred by a theft that picks the open sore of her grief. During a memorial event at Grandview Cemetery in Maryville, Tennessee, she placed two battery-operated, lighted Christmas trees at the grave of her grandson, Leviticus Crabtree, who died in October 2007 shortly after his birth.
The trees were stolen less than 24 hours later.
Lemanski’s grandson is buried at Grandview Cemetery, and the family participated in this year’s Christmas luminary event at the cemetery on December 12. To honor the memories of the departed, surviving family members place candles and other decorations at their loved ones’ grave sites. Families make a donation to the Empty Pantry Fund as part of the event.
When Lemanski visited her grandson’s grave Saturday morning, the trees she and her family had placed on the grave were missing. “His grandpa fixes him a tree and his mother fixes him a tree,” she said. “And those were what was stolen.”
Lemanski’s late husband is also interred at Grandview. When she discovered the theft of the Christmas trees from her grandson’s grave, she immediately checked her husband’s as well. That site was undisturbed.
“The staff wouldn’t take Christmas trees off. I know that for a fact; the cemetery staff wouldn’t have,” Lemanski said, adding that she was sure her late husband’s tree would have been removed as well if the trees were taken down by cemetery caretakers. She had not been able to contact Grandview Cemetery staff as of Saturday, but said she reported the theft to the Blount County Sheriff’s Office.
She suspects that the proximity of her grandson’s grave to the roadway made the trees placed near his grave marker an easy target. According to Lemanski, her grandson is buried “right beside the road. It’s easily accessible to people who want to snatch and grab something and steal it.”
Lemanski is most upset that the stolen trees were decorated with personal items that were meaningful to the family. “I bought him personal items last year to put on the tree and we bought him personal stuff again this year. It’s just special stuff we got fixed on his tree,” she said.
The monetary value of the theft was minimal, but the emotional impact was devastating, Lemanski said.
“You know what they cost? Three-ninety-nine ($3.99) a strand. There were three strands on each tree,” she added. “How ridiculous is it for someone to steal something like that?
“I don’t understand why anybody would do that. You just want to do something in memory of them. And it breaks your heart.
I wrote the story you just read for The Daily Times. Because it was a newspaper article, I couldn’t say everything that needs to be said about the situation.
Here’s the story behind the story.
Margaret Lemanski found me on Saturday, December 13 while I was standing outside the Daily Times building, smoking a cigarette.
She marched past me with purpose, not even noticing me, it seemed. Her eyes shimmered. I could almost hear her heart breaking when she tried the door and found it locked. She turned back toward me and spoke for the first time.
“Are they closed?” She asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “we’re closed for the weekend.”
“Isn’t anyone in there working?”
“Well, yeah. But we’re clos—”
She didn’t let me finish.
“I need someone to write me an article,” she said.
And she began pouring her heart out to me. She was in tears as she spoke. The fresh grief of her infant grandson’s death was raked up and torn open by an act that was probably contemplated for all of thirty seconds.
In one thoughtless theft, and one reckless decision, a woman’s soul was wrung out once again; and there were still tears left to fall.
Margaret Lemanski called me On December 15. She had visited her grandson’s grave and discovered that the stolen trees were “thrown back around the grave.”
Lemanski said she didn’t know if the thieves were frightened by the fact that the theft had been reported to the Blount County Sheriff’s Office or whether “God beat them up all night,” but she was grateful that the trees were returned.
It’s probably not true, but it was gratifying to think for a moment or two that maybe my article had something to do with the return.
I’m going to be brutally honest. My first inclination was to ignore Mrs. Lemanski. It’s not rare to have someone show up at the office asking to have an article written. And most of the time, even though the story means so much to the teller, it’s just not newsworthy.
My cyncial assumption was that Mrs. Lemanski’s story would fall into that category.
I was wrong.
We can’t editorialize in a news story; and we can’t pursue an agenda for anyone. I understand why these rules are important. But, at the same time, stories like Margaret Lemanski’s deserve more than a “just the facts ma’am” approach. These stories deserve to be told. These are the stories I believe are the most important any journalist will ever write
And I shudder to think that, if I hadn’t rebuked my inclination, I would have been another pair of cold hands tearing at this grieving grandmother’s open wounds.