Memorial Day Mowing


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.


  1. Nancy in Iowa says:

    A lovely post for Memorial Day. My parents are laid to rest at the National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida, the state where they lived over half their lives. Most of Mom’s family, however, is resting in one of 2 very small cemeteries in a small “hamlet” in PA. My older sister lives there, and on one visit she took me to the cemeteries and pointed out many of my ancestors. It was a very memorable day.

    Morgan has really shown her interest in her family roots, not only by visiting this lovely old site, but I also remember the paper she wrote for school. :sun:

  2. Glenda says:

    Very touching tribute, Suzanne…
    I dunno, more and more folks are getting interested in geneology.
    You might put a sign out by the road, and mention on your blog about the family names…people are looking for dead folks…LoL
    I mean that in a good way now, don’t get skeered…
    I appreciate the way you care about them, and keep their resting place all mowed for them…
    ps. I think it would be wonderful to have a family cemetery.

  3. Melissa says:

    I love this story.I think it is so important to preserve our heritage. I don’t have a family cemetery but wish I did. Our family is so scattered, we hardly know each other at all. You are very lucky to have all of that right there.

  4. Barbee' says:

    My husband’s hobby is genealogy, and he has traipsed through cemeteries similar to yours. Sometimes they are difficult to find, but usually there is at least one older person who knows where it is. When those guides are dead and buried themselves, I wonder if the little places will be totally lost. I hope there is some kind of register of them somewhere, maybe in a court house, where seekers can go for help and information. Very good post, Suzanne.

  5. Julie says:

    That was a lovely post Suzanne! From our military family to your military family ~ hope you have a Happy Memorial Day. There are graves of American service members all over Germany; my husband and sons are placing flags on their graves nearby today with other scouts and families. They won’t be forgotten. Thanks for remembering yours and sharing their life, their sacrifice with us!

  6. Diane says:

    I agree with the others a lovely post. Thanks for shareing your military family history with us also. Hearing about generations of military families is just wonderful.

  7. CindyP says:

    A truly beautiful post!

    Thank you, 52, for being the mower of that very important cemetery. There are too, too many of these cemeteries being overcome with nature around them. Glenda is right, there are many people who are trying to get their family’s history. If there isn’t a register, what a great project for Morgan (as she is the namesake of your great-grandfather)!

    Happy Memorial Day! Remembering everyone on this very special day…

  8. Carol Langille says:

    Day is done, gone the sun,
    From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
    All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

    Fading light, dims the sight,
    And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
    From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

    Thanks and praise, for our days,
    ‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
    As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

    Sun has set, shadows come,
    Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
    Always true to the promise that they made.

    While the light fades from sight,
    And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
    To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

    These are the words to Taps, words that I never knew existed until my husband, an Air Force veteran, told me. I have passed them on to the people I work with and one of the ladies will sing them today in honor or Memorial Day and our Fallen Heros.God bless them all.
    Everyone have a safe day and don’t forget why we have this day.

  9. Rose in Vermont says:

    My dad was in the Marines, and my aunt too. I know a few 18 year olds headed to boot camp in the next few weeks also. Thanks you and 52 – for mowing, for telling stories, for encouraging your children to be Americans and for sharing all of it with us. Happy Memorial Day!

  10. Connie says:

    What a wonderful post Suzanne. It literally brought me to tears picturing your Dad walking out of the woods still crying. I’m a sucker for strong older men crying…does me in every time. It’s nice that you keep the grounds trimmed and hopefully your kids and your grandchildren will continue to do the same. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful part of your history with us.

  11. mamawolf says:

    This is a very moving post. Thank you Suzanne for giving us a look into a little of your family’s history. My ancestors are scattered from Canada to France to the American Midwest and unfortunately do not know where they are buried with the exception of one great-great-grandfather, veteran of the Civil War who is buried in Jefferson Barracks. Morgan is to be commended for her care of her great-grandfather’s grave. You are truly blessed in your life.

  12. Kris S says:

    When I was a girl, we would drive my grandma to a cemetery about 50 miles from home where many of her family were buried. We would join her relatives there for a picnic at the cemetery and they shared stories about the people buried there.

    Now that your cemetery is mowed, maybe you could host a picnic for your father and your extended family so they will know where the cemetery is and your dad could tell the family about some of the people buried there. It is a great tribute to those who have gone before to be remembered.

    A great post.

  13. jean says:

    Please tell your son that I thank him for serving our country.

  14. Miss Becky says:

    Oh my goodness Suzanne, that photo of you and your father at your great-grandfather’s tomb is absolutely precious. Your touching tribute has pressed against my heart and brought tears to my eyes.
    thanks for sharing. :hug:

  15. greensborodailyphoto says:

    Your great grandpa was born and died in very important years. He was born the year West Virginia became a state– a month and a few days after, as a matter of fact. He died the last year of World War II. Those are some fabulous “bookends” to his honorable life.


  16. Beth Brown says:

    What a nice post Suzanne. I love these little cemeteries – thank you for taking over the care of it.

    Beth aka oneoldgoat (who doesn’t have her goats anymore)

  17. Cousin Sheryl says:

    The Roane County Historical Soceity has a Register of all the known cemeteries in Roane County. A lot of the “leg work” for creating this register was done by our very own Georgia with husband, Bob, in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s. Of course, this cemetery is included because Suzanne and her dad as well as Mark and Bob share John Morgan Dye as an ancestor. The Roane County Historical Soceity has a Reading Room in our Roane County Library where anyone can go and look up information. Copies of the Cemetery List are usually for sale.

    Many communities have similar local historical societies that have done similar work all over the country. If you don’t have a cemetery register in your community, contact your local group and become part of creating one! If you have a yen for history and geneology, this is a great way to get started.

    My mother owns our family cemetery in Fayette County, WV and one day it will be my responsibility to care for it. Mark’s family has a cemetery here about 1.5 miles from the old farmhouse. Our dear Bob is buried there and Mark and Georgia went there on Saturday to mow and decorate.

    The hills of WV are dotted with little family cemeteries everywhere. My mother’s 4-H club maintains a small cemetery in her town that only has about 10 graves. This makes an excellent service project for a 4-H club or a Scout troop.

    Lovely post, Suzanne. Have a blessed day everyone!

  18. bonita says:

    This is a wonderful post. thanks, Suzznne.
    I wanted to find out the location of the small cemetery in AR—4 miles down a dirt road—where my aunt and uncle were laid to rest. Wonder of wonders, the older folks who knew about this small cemetery had listed the name of the cemetery and the names on every tombstone they could read on the internet. Thanks to their generosity the descendants of 200 souls could find their relatives.
    Thank you to all the military families, everywhere.

  19. Linda in New Mexico says:

    This is so strange…kinda goose bump inducing. I dated in the 60’s a young man who was in the Air Force whose name was John M.Dye and he was from WV. Could he be a relative? Or maybe I should ask could he not be a relative with that many common denominators?
    Lovely post. We too have a small town cemetery which is now deserted. My relatives are buried there and we haven’t gone in many years to visit….but we shall soon. thanks for the motivation to do so.

  20. Kristi Dorson says:

    What a lovely post. The part about your father made ME get all choked up.

  21. Donna says:

    My husband Joel and I know all too well what happens to the more unfortunate cemeteries in WV, unlike your family cemetery which has been kept well. Several years ago we founded the West Virginia Cemetery Preservation Association ( to try and photo document as many of the old family cemeteries in WV as possible before they could no longer be found, and the stones no longer read. Many folks don’t realize what we genealogists know, that 150 years and more ago, vital records like birth dates, death dates, names of children that were born and died young, were not recorded with the county or state like they are nowadays. Such records were only kept in family Bibles and on the tombstones of old family graveyards like yours. To a historian or genealogist, each of these tombstones read like a very, very old book – usually a romance novel of sorts. By the inscriptions chosen, the pictures that the mourning loved ones chose to have carved in the stone, or the stones that were carved by hand by a tearful husband or father for the dear one gone much too soon, you can get a sense of what the person was like, and what their immediate family was like, all from the marker that they left behind in remembrance. In the past, death was much more embraced as an everyday part of life, and the whole family was a part of the process. On Memorial Day in Appalachia, it was expected that there would be family picnics ‘on the ground’ at the graveyard while the mowing was done and the graves were decorated with flowers (as recent as my grandmother’s generation they still called Memorial Day “Decoration Day”). There would be memorial services all day long for those that had passed during the cold winter when not as many could get out and about to attend services, and evangelists would take to trying to out-do one another in stirring up the crowd to repentance… liberally intersperced with fried chicken and potato salad, of course!

    Keep encouraging Morgan and others in her generation to visit the family cemeteries – pass on the stories and show the old family photos. The stories and photos make our ancestors more ‘alive’ to us and to our children, and maybe, just maybe, our old family graveyards will survive yet another genereation and provide for a resting place for us when our time comes.

    Donna :clover:

    P.S. We’re Navy too… our Fireman (as he is so quick to point out that he’s not a Seaman!) son Brian is presently in the Naval hospital in San Diego with two broken legs and a broken elbow from a bad fall from his ship – please keep him in your prayers, fellow Chickens in the Road family, as well as all our military!

  22. logcabingirl says:

    God bless you, Suzanne, and 52 for keeping up the tradition of mowing those cemeteries. It is coming down to our generations to take up the banner and remember. We also help my parents mow the family cemeteries. Both my husband and I have ancestors who were in the American wars back to before the Revolution. My husband was a Naval aviation storekeeper, and my father-in-law a coxwain on thw USS New York at Iwo Jima and the Pacific theater, wounded by a Kamakazi plane that hit the deck. My father was in the US army during Korea. May God bless and keep your son, we will be praying for him.

  23. Cookin Cate says:

    What a wonderful post. When I became interested in genealogy, I learned where my ancestors are buried. Many family cemeteries are over 300 miles away, but I visit at least once a year to pay my respects to those who made what I have today possible.

  24. Jenni in KS says:

    Beautiful. I always love coming across these small country cemeteries. I’m thankful there are people left who care about some of them and take care of them. In my county there is a group that goes around and takes care of the old rural cemeteries because many of the families of those buried there have moved away or don’t even know they exist.

    I don’t know of any family buried in a small cemetery like this, but we do visit the graves of one side of the family every year on Memorial Day. My children and I never knew most of these people from my husband’s family. My husband never even knew many of them. During our trip to decorate the graves we always learn a little more about family history. We laugh and talk and then picnic afterward at a nearby park and build new memories and family stories to add to the old. When I was first introduced to this family custom, I thought it was very strange and more than a little morbid. My family had never done anything like this. Now it’s one of my favorite times, and it’s a precious tradition to my children.

    Thank you for sharing the story of your family cemetery with us.

  25. Jean Morford says:

    Thank you for a beautiful post. I remember Decoration Day. It makes me sad that I am too far away to do that now. What a wonderful legacy Morgan has. Sheryl is right that county historical societies usually have records of known cemeteries, thanks to people like Georgia and Bob, who made the effort to locate these cemeteries and write down the inscriptions. Now, with the Internet, people are working to photo-document the tombstones. The picture of you and your father at your great-grandfather’s tombstone is perfect to hand down to future generations. It’s very moving to me that Morgan shows an interest in these things. She is a remarkable young lady. Thanks for sharing with us.

  26. janehill says:

    Suzanne, thank you for a lovely post this Memorial Day. My Father too was a B-17 tail gunner in WWII. Dad died in 2008 at age 87. My husband served 27 years in the Air Force, is now retired, and we have come home to NC to live. We are a military family and we are very proud of it too. God bless your son who is going to serve for all of us. I know you are worried about him going off, but I know you are also proud of him too. Thanks for a great blog you write everyday. Hugs, Jane

  27. Lacey says:

    Lovely. I am an enthusiastic geneaologist and I sure wish I knew if my family had family cemeteries. My gandparents are all from Ohio and Tennessee and over here on the west coast, we’re far removed from our roots and none of my living grandparents are able to remember details. You are blessed to have access to not only the cemetery but people that know the people buried there.

    My grandpa, one of many veterans in my family, died a few years ago. One of the few vivid memories I have of him is raising the flag every morning and respectfully taking it down every night. I wish we didn’t need the military but his example, along with others, taught me to love and appreciate my country and those that represent us in times and places that we wish didn’t have to exist.

  28. Mildred says:

    Someday in the future someone will come looking for ancesters in your cemerery. It would be a good thing if Morgan would do a list of peope buried there. Soon etching on the grave stones will become weather worn and loose dates and names. A good place to have that list would be your historical society if there is one for your community

  29. SuzieQ says:

    What a lovely post.. Sometimes, while traveling, I see a small cemetery somewhere and wonder about the families. I always say a silent prayer for those families.

  30. Shirley Corwin says:

    Great post. I have relatives on my father’s side including my Grandmother and grandfather in a small cemetery in East Springfield, PA. It was right next to the big apple orchard that my uncle owned. (the Wickersham family farm) When we played at the farm we would sometimes play in the cemetery. It was very well taken care of then but I haven’t been back there since my Aunt was buried there about 15 years ago. It isn’t as small as yours. Next time I visit my sister in Erie, maybe we’ll go visit out there.

  31. Mischelle says:

    Bless you for keeping up your family cemetery. As someone who relishes old cemeteries while doing family research, it is always heartbreaking to come across one that time has forgotten. Keep it up if only for the memories of those who came before you.

  32. Jennifer Robin says:

    I too am a Navy mom, and am so impressed by Ross’s determination to become a nuke. My son started out on the same path 10 years ago. Now he’s a seasoned veteran and has been recognized for some pretty prestigious accomplishments; not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself and think how lucky I am to be his mom. Happy Memorial Day!

  33. Melanie says:

    Wonderful post! I visited the cemetary where a lot of my family is buried yesterday, but there is another smaller, family cemetary that I haven’t been to in years. I need to take my grandfather out there and get the names and relationships of these people. He’s really the last one who would know. Thanks for inspiring me!

  34. JanJones says:

    What a beautiful post. Words spoken are only sounds of what the memory leaves in the past. I am so overtaken by the post and the pictures. We so often become entangled in our daily lives and many times forget the ones that once were, even if for only a mere thought. Their tombstones and the epitaph is what reminds us: No matter where you were, what you done or how you lived your life, here in the midst of a glorious display of Mother Nature, lies the remains of what once flourished and lived amongst all the best. My wonderful Father passed ten years ago in just a few short days and two years after my precious Mother joined him, leaving behind eight children who loved and adorned them both. I thank you so much for this post… I really needed the lift tonite and you gave me that boost…

  35. Jersey Lady says:

    I visit the graves of our family members when I am up home. It is always a bitter-sweet experience. Some of the people I knew, some I did not. But it doesn’t matter, I talk to them all. As the eldest of my generation and self-appointed keeper of the flame, I want them to know how grateful I am for their having kept the faith, fought the good fight, and passed on our family heritage.

  36. Cynthia Stinson says:

    I like to skip over Memorial Day. It just strikes too close to home. My husband has deployed twice to Iraq and been on 2 unaccompanied tours to South Korea. I think it would be hard to send my son off to boot camp. I will be in your shoes however; in about 3 more years my eldest son will be attending the Airforce Academy. Remember that, “Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” George Orwell. Your son will join the rough men as his family has done before him.

  37. Mavis says:

    Hi Suzanne,

    Thanks for this post. My grandfather was a tailgunner in WW II as well.

  38. Nannette Turner says:

    I lerk most of the time here but I too am a part of a military family and blog about it. My son will go to Afghanistan this month as well. This is his third tour. I’ll keep yours in my prayers as well.

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