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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.


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

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

Comments

Deb, great story, and thank you for writing it. My granny told me about Red Bird River and we took a trip to Ky., found the area and stumbled upon the family cemetery, just as she had talked about..it was a touching moment in my life.

I really enjoyed reading this story, Deb. It was very well written and interesting.

Too bad a deep sea diver wasn't buried near your Grandparents. You would have found their graves sooner..

To find out why I say that read my story titled "Charlie Solves A Grave Problem" on this site.

Nancy Leitz

I am glad you found the site and managed to preserve it. My great-grandfather, so I am told, had a glass covering over his grave where people could actually view his body. This lasted for many years until some hoodlums broke the glass. Most people back then in rural Georgia were buried in graves next to the churches they attended.

Nancy,

Your Charlie was one smart cookie. :) A lot of those old stones were very interesting and some were unique to the deceased, like your diver.

Jackie,

I wonder how long the glass lasted? East of the Big Muddy the European tradition of churchyard burials was a common one. Out west, not so much, though I do have one set of great-grandparents buried in a churchyard in Thrifty, Texas.

Marcy, There's something powerful about visiting a cemetery where long dead ancestors lie. My sister and her family visited the Turkey Creek (now Fincher) Arkansas Cemetery where our great-grandfather and gg-grandfathers are buried.

This was originally a church- yard cemetery as well, but the church was burned and the old stones destroyed in the "Late Unpleasantness" between the States in the 1860s. So there's probably no way of knowing exactly where they lie. Although... but that's a story for another day.

:)

I took the time these past couple of years to learn where my g.grandparents are buried on both sides of the family. One of the stones are deteriorating badly and may have to be replaced. But they are so important. Thank you for sharing your story, but that farmer should be ashamed for not paying attention to respect the dead. Hopefully in the future, he will.

Deb, you made the journey to the gravesite so fun. I say that because as I was reading it I was reminded of the times we've gone to visit one of my family gravesites. You go up a one lane road that has very few places to let another car by, having to back up quite a ways at times. You then cross a huge swinging bridge that isn't in the best shape sometimes, through a path where many snakes have been found, across a railroad, up a hill where thorny berry bushes surround it's path till you enter the gate of the cemetery. A lot of family members won't cross it anymore and some so scared they never did. It's a very special place though and a feeling when you're there that's hard to describe. So glad you found yours, I love happy endings.

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