Tag Archives: Cemeteries

The Lure of Cemeteries

Would I rather go to Asheville to visit the mall or the cemetery?  Hmmmm…cemetery. There are lots of people there, too, but they’re all very quiet, and it’s so peaceful and actually quite beautiful.   Probably sounds weird, I know.  Photo is in historic Riverside Cemetery where my mom and I visit 3-4 times a year to put flowers out on relatives’ graves.   It’s an old cemetery.  O. Henry and Thomas Wolfe are buried here, plus other important people in the history of North Carolina, but more importantly to me, one set of great-grandparents, two sets of great-great grandparents, various uncles, aunts, cousins, and a beloved great-uncle were laid to rest in this place.  Sharing the experience with my mom is always fun, too, because she reminisces and usually shares things about my family I never heard before.  I feel so, well, connected when I come here.

~Sharon

copyright (c) 2012 by Raindrop Ridge Press

My Family Tree

I’ve written a lot about my parents and me putting flowers out on relatives’ graves a few times a year and how much I love the old cemeteries. So peaceful and quiet, full of nature – old oak trees and acorns with squirrels running around all over the place, beautiful flowers and shrubs like azaleas and rhododendron, and the sounds of birds chirping and singing on a spring day……and lots of memories and reminiscing. Now it’s just my mom and me taking the flowers, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or because of my dad’s death, but I’m starting to want to learn more about my relatives that are buried there, the ones I knew well and the ones I didn’t know so well or maybe not at all.So, I’ve started working on my family tree. I never knew my dad’s extended family much at all, so it has been an interesting journey but also finding out things about relatives I was more familiar with, too. It’s the personal stories that mean a lot to me, and the old photographs, not just names and dates on a family tree. My family is full of Sarahs and Franks and Charlies and Margarets…..not another Sharon in the bunch, and some good southern men’s names like Pinkney and Berry and Asbury and Carlton. I found a picture of my grandfather (mom’s dad) laughing and wish so much I had known him – he was killed in an accident a few months before I was born. How would my life be different if I’d had a grandpa to be close to? I knew my dad’s father but not well. I was one of many grandchildren and didn’t visit him much. My cousin Billie was shot and killed when he was just a boy by another boy when they were playing Russian Roulette. My mom saw him dying. I knew there were lots of teachers and even college presidents but found some doctors, too. My great-great-great grandmother and great-great-great grandfather were born in Northern Ireland – must explain my deep visceral connection to things Irish and Celtic, but I’ve never seen their picture and doubt I ever will. Their son, my great-great grandfather, and one of his brothers were shoemakers and owned their own shoe store – that explains a lot in terms of my daughters and me and our love of shoes galore! One great-great aunt had her front teeth shot out! I have to wonder how in the world did that happen? A lot of my family settled in these western North Carolina mountains to farm the land. They worked hard and seldom traveled far from home. I’m kind of like them in a way, a bit of a homebody, even though I don’t work the land in such a physical way as they did. Many of their descendants still live in these beautiful hills and valleys.

I found out that one of my great-grandpas was a handsome devil, in every picture dressed in a fine suit and two-tone shoes, quite the lady’s man, and in reality he left his wife and about ten kids and ran off to Florida and never came back. My mom remembers him and can tell me some personal things about him, great-grandma, and the aunts and uncles. Lots of the men served in the World Wars and the Civil War. My grandmother that I was close to loved to write (I didn’t know that when she was alive – I wish I had) and kept photo books and scrapbooks, old and falling apart now, but even Easter and Christmas cards she and my grandpa gave each other back in the 1930s and 1940s. I consider myself fortunate to have a lot of these things to hold and look at to help me know them better. Sometimes I’ve run into a brick wall trying to find out something, and it’s kind of frustrating. I want to know what happened to Uncle Frank….I was so close to him as a child, or how did one of my great-great grandpas end up dying way out in Washington state? I have to accept that some things may remain a mystery.

Now I’m traipsing around different cemeteries these days to see where some of these direct ancestors were laid to rest, to feel some different connection to them than just a name on a paper. In the process, I’ve gotten in touch with a cousin I vaguely knew about and never met and the husband of another older cousin that I never knew of at all. I hope to connect with more relatives in the process. The family tree is old, and if you’re lucky you can trace it back a long way, but it’s also a living, breathing, present reality, too, with living cousins and aunts and uncles and in-laws and nieces and nephews that are interesting in their own right, right here and now.

This journey makes me mindful of how I live my own life and how I express myself for others who are interested to know and find later. I hope they read some of the things I’ve written about nature and everyday life and see photographs I’ve taken of this beautiful neck of the woods my family has called home for generations. But mostly I want them to come to know what I have, that when it comes down to it, family just means so much and helps make us who we are.

Around here in the mountains where I live there’s a cemetery behind almost every little church, even way back in the hills. Some of them are pretty old and the stones hard to read. And of course there are the grander big cemeteries, some of them in the cities, with a few famous people buried in there, tourist attractions. I’m always mindful that the people buried there, related to me or not, and obviously mostly not, once walked this earth making a living, having families, connecting with the universe in their unique ways to leave their own legacy. Maybe some were more noble than others, I don’t know. I try to be respectful of all that. I know some people think it’s morbid, but I just don’t feel that way.  Cemeteries bring me a sense of peace and connection.  Oh yeah, I really do love the old cemeteries.

 

Copyright (c) 2011 by Raindrop Ridge Press

A Trip Down Memory Lane……On Memorial Day

Today, my parents and I shared a nice day. For quite a long time my dad had been wanting to ride over to the area where he grew up near Murphy, in Cherokee County, North Carolina.  It’s about 2 hours away, but he doesn’t really drive that far anymore, just mostly around town here.  It was a holiday weekend, we had no plans (and besides, yesterday was his 75th birthday), and I thought it would be a nice time to do something a little different and make that trip.

We started out around 11 a.m., stopped and picked up some chicken dinners to go, and rode over to the Deep Creek area in the town of Bryson City….about 35 or 40 minutes from home. They were having a Memorial Day festival so the normally lazy little Southern town was full of hustle and bustle. I noticed new restaurants had opened. There were booths set up selling various crafts and items. The train depot was spruced up for the Smoky Mountain Railway. We made our way past downtown to the the Deep Creek recreation area….home of trails and hikers, waterfalls, campers, picnickers, horseback riders, people watchers, and tubing down the cold waters on what turned out to a very hot late-May day.  We ate lunch and took a little walk, and I took a few pictures, then we got back in the car and headed on down the road through the Nantahala Gorge, famous for its whitewater rafting, stopped briefly for a couple of more pictures, then through Andrews and on to the Tomotla and Murphy area.

The area has changed a lot since I was a kid and we would visit my grandparents. The old 2-lane road has been replaced by a 4-lane one, and the rough gravel road that my grandparents lived on is now paved and has a campground at the beginning of it. It’s beautiful country, a wide valley built up around a river called, appropriately, the Valley River, with steep mountains to the sides. The old swinging bridge is still there – I remember crossing it with my cousin many years ago and feeling a little queasy even though it’s not too high or too long, but stretches precariously and nauseatingly across the river. My dad said that’s how they used to walk to school, and several times a year heavy rainstorms would wash the swinging bridge away and it would have to be repaired. My grandparents’ old house, where my dad and his 9 brothers and sisters grew up on a farm, raising tobacco, gardening, and raising animals for eggs, milk, and meat, looked pretty delapidated. I could hardly believe it was the same house. It’s kind of sad to see that happen and know that people still live in there, what you could see of it through all the wild overgrowth. Some of the other property inherited by the children has been sold and developed with attractive new homes. It’s truly a beautiful place and I realize now that when I was younger visiting over there I just didn’t appreciate the natural beauty of it. There are things I remember about my grandparents’ house – drinking cold water out of a long-handled pail, an old butter churn, the steep steps down to the concrete cellar, my first kitten, chickens that would be all around your feet when you went up to the door.  I loved sitting out on the front porch in the swing, playing with all the cats that were on the property, and eating my grandma’s special chocolate oatmeal boiled cookies.  She even let me help make them and that was the first recipe I remember being given especially for me. The thing I hated the absolute most?  Whole fresh milk!  By the way, I still don’t like milk to this day.  I would drink down the whole fat little glass of milk in one long gulp just to get rid of it, holding my nose the whole time, so then I could drink water or maybe even homemade grape juice if I was lucky.  I remember helping clean off the big table after a meal and my grandmother saving even the tiniest bite of beans or corn in a little dish in the corner cabinet for the next meal.  She didn’t waste anything and I understand that.  They were hard workers and raised a big and thriving family in some hard times.

We then went by a couple of houses where my aunts and uncles had lived, now occupied by strangers, then to the church and cemetery where my grandparents and several of my aunts and uncles are buried. It has been a long time since I had been to that church and I hadn’t even seen some of the gravesites before. The cemetery was as neat as a pin and really pretty and peaceful. Every grave had fresh and colorful flowers. You could tell this is a place well loved and cared for. My dad wrote down the birthdays and death dates of all his relatives on an old envelope he found in the car. He tried to get in the church – it was locked. I just think churches should keep their doors open like they did when I was a kid for people who need it, but sadly times have changed and it just isn’t realistic any more.  The old cinder blocks had been replaced with white siding and the doors painted bright red. It was really a picturesque scene, that little country church and cemetery, all bright and shiny in the sunlight, full of whites and reds and yellows. I took pictures of all the graves.  I think it meant a lot to my dad to spend some time there, and he wrote down the information about where you could make a donation to help with upkeep for the cemetery.

After that, we went on through the town of Murphy, which has grown a bit since I was last through it, and stopped for a brief visit with a couple of my first cousins, sisters who live next door to each other, settled back on their property next to their own home place after living and working for many years down in Atlanta. We sat on the covered front porch and enjoyed a wonderful breeze, just talking and laughing and catching up a bit. It was fun.  I hadn’t seen them in a long time.

Being a person who always likes to return home by a different route if possible, we continued on down to Hayesville and then back past Lake Chatuge, across Chunky Gal Mountain (I love that name), past Standing Indian and where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road, to the town of Franklin, where we stopped for dinner, and then back home.

My dad really enjoyed his trip, remembering lots of things about his family as he grew up – there are only four of them alive now – and I learned some new things about my relatives I didn’t know. I think it has bothered him a little bit that I haven’t been closer to his family. Today, I regretted that myself. Sometimes fairly simple things, like this trip, mean so much and can bring a lot of pleasure to someone’s life. I’m glad I could do my part to give my dad a good day. It was another one of those long days that’s a little tiring, but totally and wonderfully satisfying.

~Sharon

copyright (c) 2006 by Raindrop Ridge Press