Saturday, June 8, 2013

Graveyard Workings

Once a year, my family travels to a tiny town in northern Arkansas, to visit a few tiny old cemeteries in the area where loved ones lie. At a couple of these cemeteries, we simply visit graves and lay flowers down, but at one, our "family" cemetery, there's a work day and reunion on the day we visit, and often we clear branches and leaves, make some repairs, and contribute to a potluck lunch.

Most of my family can drive up from their home also in Arkansas (although it's still a long drive on small roads), but other family drives down from Illinois, and this year, for the first time in too long, we, too, drove down from Indiana:
my great-grandparents--my great-grandfather died just a few months before I was born, but I was fortunate to have spent my childhood living just down the street from my Nana, who I spent the night with sometimes and who would bake me peanut butter cookies with cherry icing.
one of my Pappaw's baby siblings--you're going to be heartbroken at how many died in infancy or as very young children 
I do love the homemade markers, although most from this time haven't lasted. This one is by far the best.
Most of Pappaw's siblings are marked just by stones at head and foot, and Pappaw simply knows who is who and  points them out to us each year. At one point, my aunt and uncle hand-stamped stones for each sibling, but it's a hard climate there and they didn't hold up. This year for Christmas, all of us chipped in and each bought Pappaw a marker for each of his siblings--seems like a morbid gift, but he loved it. During our work day, then, we dug out a space and set each marker in dry cement that will naturally harden over time--sooner rather than later, as we happened to do all this during an utter downpour (of course).

Pappaw's father, who died when Pappaw was a child, leaving Pappaw as the head of the family.  I want to say that he was approximately Willow's age, but he quit school and went to work then.
Since we're studying the Civil War, I was thrilled to have the girls visit the grave of their great-great-great grandfather. It sparked some great(ly difficult) conversations about why your average person would choose to fight for the Confederacy. The girls don't approve, of course, but I hope that they can eventually learn to respect their ancestor's service, if never his cause.
 It was a whirlwind trip, and it played hell on my diet, but stuff like this, the very stuff that I used to think was SOOOOOO boring when I was a kid, is the exact same stuff that it turns out that I want my own children well-versed in, too. I want my kids to know their roots. I want them to know what the teeny little rural mountain area my side of the family comes from looks like. I want them to know what their great-grandfather's childhood was like. I want them to wonder why one of their ancestors fought for the South in the Civil War. I want them to count the years on the stones, and think about who lived when, and what the world was like, and what their lives were like, and why they died when they did.

I hope it becomes real for them, one day, even though their own lives seem so out of that context. During our trip, Willow, of course, asked why we had to go and look at all these graves. Matt said, "When Pappaw looks at these graves, he doesn't see the graves. He sees the people that he loved, and he remembers them." Willow's a lucky girl in that she doesn't have any loved ones yet at whose grave she must stand and remember them, but someday, of course, she and her sister will know exactly what Matt means, and they'll come to appreciate our graveyard workings more as they become sadly more familiar with how grief and memory work.

1 comment:

Tina said...

Great Post Julie. I have never visited the gravesides of any of my relatives (none of them are close enough). I will make a special trip next time I am in my home state. So I can remember.