My family’s old cemetery is across the road from our farm. My cousin kept it mowed for many years, and now 52 has taken the baton on my behalf. He makes sure it gets mowed before Memorial Day every year, and mows it again in the fall. My father was four the day he stood here while his father was put in the ground. My great-grandfather got down on bended knee and said, “I’ll be your daddy now.” And he was. My father, in his 80s now, is one of the last who knew the people whose names are written on these stones. To me, they are just names, even if they are relatives, but to him, they are real people. The last time he was here, he was so overcome by emotion, he walked into the woods to be by himself for 20 minutes. I thought he’d never come back! I was worried. Did he fall off a cliff? HE’S 80! But he did finally come back, still wiping his eyes, and I’ve never forgotten that emotion and I see this place differently since.
Not many people visit this cemetery these days, but it was once the heart of a community, filled with memories and stories, love and heartbreak. It sits in a clearing on a hill over the river, surrounded by trees, reached by a rough, steep, rock-dirt drive. There are roses and peonies planted amongst the tombstones.
They bloom untended, but if no one came to mow, this small cemetery would be quickly overtaken by the wild woods around it. In fact, many of the family members of my generation–cousins and second cousins–don’t know how to find it anymore because they haven’t been here since they were children, brought here by their parents–my father’s generation, the generation who grew up with the people whose names are on these stones. Go one more generation down to the children of my cousins and second cousins, and most of them have never even been here as time and distance take their toll.
This photo (below) was taken in 1970. I’m the girl on the right. That’s my father, behind my great-grandfather’s tombstone.
His name was John Morgan Dye. Morgan was named after him. She likes to walk over here sometimes and put flowers on his grave and others. (Morgan is the most common first and middle name in my assorted extended family tree–all named after my great-grandfather.)
You can see how 40 years have changed the landscape. The woods have closed in around this old cemetery as the community that once thrived here has disappeared.
I wonder sometimes what will happen to all these old, hidden, nearly forgotten cemeteries someday as generations move farther and farther down the family line from those buried in them.
All we can do is keep mowing……
Daisies for Great-Grandpa.
*I can’t leave this Memorial Day 2010 without mentioning my oldest son, Ross, who leaves for boot camp in just a few weeks (June 17). My father served as a tail gunner in World War II. My uncle died on a Pacific Island in World War II when he was just 17 years old. My children’s father was a Navy submariner. I was a Navy wife. And now my son will be a submariner, too. We are a military family.