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Forest Lawn is missed living in California

With mixed emotions, I broke the news to friends and family: My fiance accepted a job offer in California and I would be joining him. I had lived in Western New York all my life, so I knew this would not be an easy transition.

Everyone asked me what I'll miss. Family and friends were, of course, number one on my list. Close behind (again no surprise) was the food. Oh, how I miss juicy beef on weck, spicy wings, tasty Sahlen's hot dogs, pizza and that perennial summertime favorite -- Chiavetta's barbecued chicken.

But the answer no one expected on my list of "misses" was Forest Lawn. How did a cemetery inspire such passion?

I moved to Buffalo 18 years ago. A transplant from the suburbs, I knew little about the city. Then, on one of those postcard-perfect autumn days, my boyfriend introduced me to Forest Lawn. We drove through the massive iron gates, and soon I was lost in the maze of angels, crosses and huge mausoleums. We ate sandwiches on benches around Mirror Lake, serenaded by the soothing water music from the Three Graces fountain.

The trees wore their robes of brilliant scarlet, golden yellow and sunny orange. The serenity relaxed me; the history intrigued me. Thus began my love affair with Forest Lawn.

Over the years, lovers entered and exited my life, but my love affair with Forest Lawn persisted. Its grounds became a place for me to meditate, celebrate or, when needed, isolate during life's challenges. I visited during showers, shine, and snow; the change of seasons only enhanced the cemetery's beauty.

I was ecstatic when I won a Forest Lawn gift basket at a Chinese auction. Some people looked at me strangely, wondering why I was so happy to win cemetery paraphernalia, but that didn't diminish my delight. Now I had a guidebook, a stunning full-color coffee table book, a forest green T-shirt with the Forest Lawn logo and pencils imprinted with the logo. What more could a woman want?

Guidebook in hand, I diligently searched for the graves of the famous and not-so-famous. I also learned about the prominent families who played key roles in Buffalo's art, architecture and industry. But Forest Lawn is not just a superb example of a Victorian Age cemetery. It also provides a refuge for over 240 species of birds, and its grounds contain more than 10,000 trees.

Armed with my new knowledge, I became an unofficial tour guide for family and friends. Oh sure, at first they were reluctant because they don't share my enthusiasm for cemeteries. However, after my tour they left with a new appreciation for this Buffalo beauty.

In the weeks before the move, I visited the cemetery almost every day, trying to soak up its tranquility and keep it in reserve for when I am 3,000 miles away. Mother's Day and Memorial Day are especially poignant. Families spill from their vehicles, carrying wreaths, balloons, flowers and flags for their loved ones' graves. The traditional holiday pilgrimage bridges the generation gap as children, parents and grandparents converge to honor the deceased.

I know when I return to Buffalo to visit loved ones, Forest Lawn will be included. This cemetery is truly one of Buffalo's jewels, and I miss it dearly.

By Kimberly Reed, a former Buffalonian, now living in California, still has a passion for Forest Lawn.

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