Wednesday, August 7, 2013

So That I Can Feel the Rain...

I've mentioned before our penchant for visiting local graveyards.  We are historians after all, and the residents of these plots are our people.  And I don't mean for this to be a depressing post!  

Growing  up in California meant that cemeteries were massive tracts of land somewhere out of regular view.  They were over there, where we didn't have to see them or be reminded of our own mortality.  But here in the mountains of Tennessee,  the graveyards are part of the neighborhoods.  Little family plots in the side-yard , slightly larger church cemeteries,  gated off necropolises near shopping malls & every so often a modern cemetery acres wide with uniform headstones & carefully manicured lawns.

The older ones are beautiful. From the detailed headstones to the random wrought iron. This particular cemetery has been around since 1803. Funny story about it. Way back before the Civil War, the cemetery was the family plot for one of the few slave owners that resided in the area. Our particular location in Tennessee was pro union, anti-slavery and generally opposed to obstinate displays of ill-earned wealth. When the Civil War broke out, this slave owner joined the Confederacy where his wealth made him a colonel and his incompetence made him a joke. They called him Old Mudwall, and his officers actually signed a petition against him, calling him "a man of irritable temper intensified by diseased nerves and aggravated by being in a position for which the man is morally and physically unfit."


Immediately after the war, the plantation was turned in to a school for boys.  But in 1876,  a prominent member of The Society of Friends purchased it and turned it in to a school for African Americans and a training campus for African American teachers, which it remained until 1910, when public schooling came to the area.

The people in this cemetery had amazing lives, every last one of them, however briefly they were on this planet.  Lives with stories and with families and with adventures.

So we do our best to remember them.  It is our job.

There is one fenced off section here where an achingly old tree resided.  It was planted when the first grave was dug, as a symbol of life from death.  

Its amazing to see that tangible evidence of time.  The wrought iron fencing literally goes through the tree, absorbed, and the massive tree hugs the faded stones.  

I find it all rather beautiful.

I know of bloggers who enjoy using cemeteries as backdrops to fashion photo shoots or places for picnics. They are beautiful places, but I don't like the idea of using them as scenery for something so self-indulgent. On the flipside, there are those who think of cemeteries as frightening places, or a dark and daring place to visit.

But they aren't scary places.  The whole reason people are afraid of them is the same reason Californians put their cemeteries where no one has to see them-- its fear of dying, not the place itself that frightens us.    

But a graveyard isn't about us, its about them, and ultimately its about love.  Someone loved this person so much that they couldn't stand the idea that they might be forgotten.  So they put up a stone as a testimony to the life lived.  

The point of a cemetery is to step outside our own narrow lives and to remember for a moment those that came before us,  as their loved ones fervently hoped we would.

If you get the chance, and are so inclined, go visit a local graveyard.  Just for a few minutes, just to read some names and recall the lives lived well loved.


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