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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cemeteries, Southern Style

By Mary B Summerlin who keeps a photostream at Flickr


We have the Bouknight Family Reunion in July of every year in Saluda, South Carolina. That’s Daddy’s side of the family.

After the reunion, we usually go by Emory Cemetery. That’s where Grandpa Bouknight and his kin are buried. It’s like going to a big apartment building and looking for your kin folks.

We’d all scatter about the cemetery and somebody would yell, “Here’s Grandpa Bouknight and right next to him is his wife Susan. Now, what was grandpa’s father’s name? Here it is and remember that’s where the Smith name began.”

That would be my great grandpa and his name was Luke Middleton Smith. The next generations used Smith as a middle name until my brother who is named Luke Smith Bouknight and called Smith.

Daddy would tell us stories of the family members he remembered and the ones he had learned about while working on family genealogy. It was a warm, comfortable, family time. We all listened and will pass the stories on.

Right across the road is Emory School and that is where Daddy and his sisters and brothers went to school. Education was a top priority in their family. All seven kids went to college and got degrees in nursing, teaching or engineering and this was in the Depression. What a remarkable accomplishment.

I often hear any cemetery referred to as a scary foreboding place, certainly not a place to spend any time. If you had some obligation to fulfill at the cemetery, you did it quickly and left immediately. That doesn’t relate to my experiences.

Mama’s side of the family is buried in Ruhamah Cemetery on the grounds of Ruhamah Methodist Church which is located on the banks of Hartwell Lake and is the dividing line between South Carolina and Georgia.

My great, great, great grandfather gave the land for the church and he was the first minister there.Ruhamah was closer to our home that Emory Cemetery so we went there more often.

Relatives lived in the area so often we’d visit them and then all go to the cemetery. We’d re-find relatives re-read the tombstones and hear the stories of our kinfolks from the elders in our group.

As Mama and I walked along, she’d tell me the stories. “There’s the man that was the minister here. Did you know he was in the Civil War? What an awful time that must have been. Here’s Uncle John and Aunt Keiffer. Remember Uncle John is Mama’s brother. And they lived in the old homeplace after the others moved out.”

Sometimes she’d laugh at something funny they did or said and sometimes she’d cry over the memories. And on and on we’d go as she told us how they were kin, where and how they lived.

Last summer, I took one of my nieces to the cemetery and told her some of the stories. Life goes on and I think that cemeteries being a natural part of my life gave me a structure and reassurance that life is a continuum.

Silverbrook Cemetery is in town and was where my Grandpa McGee bought a lot big enough for himself and Grandma, Mama and Daddy, and Aunt Lois and Uncle Si.

They decided to move to Silverbrook from Ruhamah because Ruhamah was falling into disrepair. They wanted to make sure the cemetery would be taken care of - grass cut, road, paths and landscaping taken care of. They wanted to be sure it would be a place relatives would want to come and visit.

Since that time, Ruhamah has reorganized itself and is beautiful and well cared for. Now the big lot that Grandpa bought is full.

In Mama’s later years, she often just wanted to go to the graves of her parents, husband and Uncle Si and just sit for awhile. It was a quiet meditative time although some discussions would take place. I particularly remember one time.

Mama’s arthritis was so bad that she now used a wheelchair. I got the wheelchair out of the car and pushed it down a gavel path; it seemed like a long way to our family plot. We rested at the graveside, Mama in her wheelchair and me sitting on the coping talking.

Mama said, “Yes, Mary this is a good place to spend the rest of my time, here with my family, nice shade tree nearby and all the family close enough to come visit me.”

Mama had just given her blessing on her next home. I got up and pushed Mama around so that she could touch the coping at each stone and say a few words to that person. Then she was ready to go.


So there are three cemeteries that I am intimately acquainted with. Family members are expected to go to the graves of the deceased family members and leave flowers at Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter and Christmas. That job has fallen to my sister, Jean, who lives the closest and cares about the tradition.

My family always considered our dead ancestors as part of our extended family. It reminded me that I should make plans for myself. The place that seems comfortable for me is Ruhamah. So I have chosen to rest with family on these ancestral and sacred grounds. The thought of it pleases me.

Last summer, I found the person in charge of the cemetery at Ruhamah. It was Louise Todd, a last cousin. Her husband Joe was my cousin and looked just like my maternal grandfather. After about the first and second cousin stage, we just call everybody last cousins. So Cousin Louise and I walked around discussing our ancestors and looking for a suitable plot for me.

We came to Aunt Anna and Uncle Walter’s plot. They had one child, a son. He died when he was four years old – choked on a peanut. He is buried in their plot with them but there is room for another.

I plan to be cremated so only a small space would be needed for me. I asked Louise if I could be buried with them and she said, “Yes.” Tears filled my eyes.

They were very special people to me. Aunt Anna and my Grandmother were sisters. My grandmother died before I was born. Aunt Anna filled that grandmother role for me – made me feel loved even when I was unlovable.

My son, his wife and two children live in New York now but this is a mobile society so who knows where they will be in the years to come. If they ever want to come visit me after my death, they will be able to find me in the surroundings that are true to my nature. The thought of being in some impersonal, big, citified cemetery is unbearable.

So I am going back to my roots – the red hills of South Carolina – out in the country where there is room, the air is fresh and nature is all around.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Mary this is beautiful. So rich and warm-- filled with love and the importance of feelings of continuity and of connection.

A wonderfully evocative story. I guess as we all age we want to be nearer our own roots so we can enjoy our final resting place.

I loved your story,Mary, because it reminded me of our adventures trying to locate Grandmom Leitz' grave in Fernwood cemetery.

I have written that story and will be sending it to Ronni shortly.

Your story was so good, I'll wait a week or so before sending mine on the same subject.

A beautiful story, Mary, and one I hadn't heard. I, too, love cemeteries, but don't have the family history with them that you do. I plan to "let my ashes fly" (a song by my son-in-law) when I die, but meanwhile I spend lots of time taking pictures in our lovely local graveyard.

Beautiful story of your family history, Ant Merry. Thank you for sharing.

What a wonderful story, never ends with this group of writers..we all have some cemetery tales I bet, but I will ponder mine and wait for right moment..Yours was too joyful for me to break that mood..nice to be old enough to talk of moving on and young enough to remember all those aunts, uncles, cousins you mentioned..the real meaning of family..just loved it...thanks..

Mary, what a beautiful story about family. I just spent a morning in Waycross, Georgia with my 94 year old Aunt Madge driving through the cemetery where most everyone on my daddy's side is buried. I too will be cremated and haven't yet decided where I'll want my ashes to live.

Thank you for your loving comments.

What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!

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