AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now, the story of a difficult story made even harder by the winter weather: Grave digging. Today, most of the work is done by backhoes. With embalming now a standard practice, it's rare to even find someone who performs wintertime burials in the frozen North.
But Jennifer Mitchell, of Maine Public Radio, introduces us to a man who insists on doing things the old fashioned way.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIGGING AND STRONG WIND)
JENNIFER MITCHELL, BYLINE: It's windy, it's winter, there's a funeral in three days and the church yard in rural Addison, Maine, is frozen solid.
EVERARD HALL: No, this ain't no easy job, tell you. You've got to have a lot of determination and a lot of willpower. And you can't be lazy.
MITCHELL: And even though he'll soon turn 70, no one has ever accused Everard Hall of that.
HALL: I'm a go-getter. The Lord gave me the strength to work. I'm going to work, you know?
MITCHELL: The folks who call on him, says Hall, tend to be old-fashioned. They don't want undertakers keeping their loved one's bodies in cold storage until the spring thaw. And they don't want that for themselves. Hall's been digging graves with a pickax and a shovel for 48 years. He's even fashioned a custom tool with a flat chopping blade, which he jokingly calls The Everard. It helps him cut through frozen soil and fashion the grave into a perfect rectangle - eight feet long, three feet wide and four and a half feet deep.
Hall was born into a family of 12 kids. Rural life in the 1940s meant hauling your own water, chopping your own wood, and shooting your own dinner. Two of the babies died and Hall's mother lost the use of her legs after the final delivery. Everard Hall had to grow up fast.
HALL: I quit eighth grade to earn money to feed the family.
MITCHELL: He took a job with a stonecutter who made tombs and monuments. After a few years, the local undertaker noticed Hall and asked if he could help out with the grave digging. From there, Hall found work all over downeast Maine. Now, after almost half a century, Hall has buried enough people to populate a small town.
HALL: I'd say 2,500, rough estimate - 2,500 anyway. That's a lot of holes. I've dug graves when it was 10 below zero and the wind blowing and snowing, and I've dug graves when it was 90 degrees and hotter than hell.
MITCHELL: Are there any graves you particularly remember?
HALL: I remember all of them.
MITCHELL: And he has photo albums with each grave immortalized on film to prove it. But still, some of them have been special.
HALL: I buried both my mother, my father, my grandfather, and two aunts and two uncles. And I buried my sister, Marilyn.
So what about your grave? Who is going to dig that?
Oh, I'm going to - I hope to get it laid out the way I want it myself. Someday I'll go up to the cemetery, show you where my lot is.
MITCHELL: So you already - you have the spot picked out. You know where you're going to be buried?
HALL: Yep. I know where I'm going. I got a cross on my grave with my initials on it - a white cross, says EDH, Everard Dallas Hall, right where I'm going.
MITCHELL: And just 12 miles away, near his childhood home on Maine's Narraguagus Bay, he says he'll start digging his grave this summer. He may be contemplating his own resting place now, but that doesn't mean he's ready to stop. Everard Hall will only stop digging graves when, as he puts it, he's called home.
HALL: God knows. I don't know. He knows. I'm here to do his job. I'm working for the Lord. He gave me the strength to do the work that I do. I've got a God-given talent, I'm a gravedigger.
MITCHELL: For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Mitchell.