Monday, 30 September 2013
A Stone's Throw From Forever
By Deb who blogs at Simple Not Easy
My mother's family and my dad's family were neighbours and three couples formed from the children of those two families. Among them, these three couples had nine children.
That's how I ended up with eight "double" cousins, cousins who carry the same genetic heritage as brothers and sisters. I was the youngest and now I am the only one.
My double-cousin Wanda was 18 years older than I. One summer day when I was four or five, Wanda and my mom decided to pay a visit to the graves of my maternal grandparents in decidedly rural Oklahoma.
We drove a long gravel road, parked off-side, climbed over a five-foot-high farm gate made of iron pipe and hiked a treacherous way for my braced legs and crutches.
Mom and Wanda took turns carrying Wanda's baby Brenda and I tackled the cactus, stickers and Johnson grass (which cuts like a razor) on my own.
I don't remember the grave sites or much else about that trip but Mother died at Christmas 1981 and in 1982 at the family reunion Wanda, Brenda and I decided to revisit that little cemetery.
We weren't exactly sure where the cemetery was, however we knew which road it was on and thought we might recognize the spot so went looking. It was July and 104 degrees or, as my friend Edith would say, hotter than Billy-be-damned.
Wanda drove and I looked for the entrance to the cemetery along the roadside. I saw a pipe gate I thought I recognized as the one we'd climbed over 30 years before but Wanda was certain it was further on and on the other side of the road, and she had the wheel.
Eventually we found a spot she thought she remembered. She parked and we began to labour across a very rough field sweating and swearing in most unladylike fashion. All three of us follow the family pattern for females. Short and (ahem) plump. It was hard work.
About a half hour later a farmer came chugging along on a John Deere and asked why the devil three “ladies” were hoofing across his hayfield.
We told him we were looking for the Cruce Cemetery and he said it was not on his farm and he'd never heard of it. We hiked back out, turned the car around and went back down the road.
At my insistence, we stopped at the pipe gate and and climbed over it, at the risk of our feminine dignity and lives. I led on like MacDuff probably a quarter of a mile through a parched forest of post oak and prickly-pear cactus.
The same farmer re-joined us (apparently we were still on his property!) insisting that there was NO CEMETERY on his land. He asked us to leave. We may have gotten a bit cranky since by now the cemetery gates were in sight.
His temper turned to mealy-mouthed contrition when we reached the cemetery. The gate was open and he was allowing his cattle to graze inside the fence, an almost unforgivable offense in southern culture. He thrust his chin out and with an edge of belligerence claimed that he "hadn't noticed" the fence and rows of headstones.
Wanda lit into him with a fine speech about dishonouring our beloved grandparents and the pioneers buried there beginning 20 years before Oklahoma even became a state.
He deflated like a balloon, whispered a promise to repair the fence and keep his cows out and beat a hasty, shame-faced retreat.
To our relief, the granite monument at the head of our grandparents' graves was still in perfect condition as was the iron fence surrounding their plot. The cemetery's many unprotected stones had not fared as well.
We did a full survey to submit to the county including noting the placement of rocks which marked graves with no identifying information.
The earliest graves were from the early 1890s; our granddad's 1935 burial was the last. The little town which the cemetery served was blown off the map by a tornado in the late 20s and the dead had stopped coming - except Granddad who made his final journey from Kilgore Texas, where he died, to lie beside my grandmother, who died in 1921. Their enclosure also includes the unmarked graves of two of their infant children.
The cemetery has been recorded by the county now and it will not be forgotten even though the memory of the ones who lie there are fading one by one as those who knew and loved them take their own long journeys.
I never knew my grandparents but those two days in which they were an integral part live in my memory filled with that wonderful sense of complete belonging one rarely feels anywhere but within the family.
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