I have lots of first cousins on my mom’s side. Based on age, we fell into two age groups. The older cousins were the children of John and Marge Westra (Gary, Sharon, Kevin and Susan) and those of Ewald and Betty Westra (Albert, Jerry, Patty and Kathy). The younger cousins were the children of Bill and Martha Strait (Jodi, Jill and Jenni) and those of Doug and Lena Begraft (Craig, Cary, Christa and Catherine).
Craig was the first of all the Westra first cousins to leave this world behind. He passed away on 03 January 1994 in Vernon, Sussex County, New Jersey, at just 29 years of age. Craig is buried in the same cemetery where my dad and I will be after we pass, the North Hardyston, Cemetery on Rt. 94 in Hamburg, Sussex County, New Jersey.
Born in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey, on 17 October 1964, Craig was first child and son of Douglas Begraft and Lena Hilde Westra. He grew up in and around Vernon and Hamburg.
Aunt Lena put some personal details on his foot stone so that people who had never known him would understand just a bit about him. In between his birth and death date, there are a pair of skis. Skiing is a popular winter activity in northern New Jersey and Craig liked to hit the slopes at the Vernon Valley ski area.
In the top right corner of the foot stone is an airplane with a cloud. Craig was learning to fly but in 1984 he was beginning to get into some trouble and airplanes figured into those problems. Our grandparents, Albert and Etta, wintered in the St. Petersburg, Florida, for long time, certainly during the time we were growing up. At 19 years of age, Craig made his way to St. Petersburg where he made the newspaper when he stole an airplane. He flew the airplane north from St. Petersburg towards a point on Florida’s western coastline called Cedar Key.
This incident happened when I was a senior in high school and I knew Craig was having some trouble but nothing like the newspaper article. I had overheard Grandma Westra was talking to my mom about the money Craig had stolen from the house, but had no idea that he was being charged with grand theft and kidnapping.
Craig was married very briefly but things didn’t work out with her and he struggled with problems in his life. Even though it’s been years since his passing, the wounds are still there for the family members he abruptly left behind.
I prefer to think of him when we were young and playing in Grandma Westra’s side yard. One summer evening, Craig, Jill, Cary, and I were all outside just when it was starting to get dark. The trees were casting shadows as the sun sank behind Grandpa’s wood shop. We were over by the lilac trees when Craig brought up the subject of bats. “You know, bats are blind. If the bats fly low enough, they’ll get stuck in your hair.” The Strait girls all had longish hair; it was the style at the time. Our eyes widen as Jill and I looked at each other wondering, “Is that really true?”
The boys looked up and then it seemed like we were all intensely concentrating on trying to pick out the bats against the darkening night sky. “There’s one!” An arm went up, a finger pointed towards some fleeting movement. Suddenly, there’s tickling on the top of our heads. Jill and I started to shriek at the top of our lungs figuring the bats have got us in the grips of their claws! Craig and Cary collapse onto the grass lawn in fits of pure laughter. We punch the boys in the arms and the laughter soon releases the tension. All of us are rolling around in the soft grass, laughing hysterically until we can’t breathe. It was a good summer night to be with cousins.
Aunt Lena told all of us to think of him every time we look up to see the bright sun in the sky. Out here in Arizona, that’s a lot of remembrance for Craig.
 North Hardyston Cemetery (Rt. 94, Hamburg, New Jersey), Craig D. Begraft marker; photo taken by author, July 2006.