By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
I like walking through cemeteries. I even have books on the subject, ranging from the significance of certain markings on tombstones to the different styles and shapes of markers to the various sentiments and histories that are written on the faces of the stones. I find that there is no better source of historical and genealogical information that cemeteries.
There is a solemn feeling about being in a grave yard. The grave is the great equalizer. All of us have an appointment with death and will one day be brought to the cemetery for a final time. I don’t mean that in a morbid or bad way. It is just a fact of life. I joked with a friend recently who knew my affection for spending time in them, that, as I get older, my trips to the cemeteries were more like apartment searches these days.
I have visited some amazing grave sites in the past few years. I guess the most impressive in artistic beauty and volume of elaborate stones were the cemeteries in Charleston, South Carolina. Being on the east coast and most of the cemeteries in the town being in the care of churches, Charleston has some of best kept graves I have seen. Many of the grave stones were cracked and broken, but since many of those graves are hundreds of years old, much of that damage was normal wear, tear, and weathering.
Unfortunately, last year, when Vickie and I visited the town, many of the grave yards that had been open in the past were gated and locked so that the visiting public could not walk through freely as they had in the past. It seems that vandals had begun to target the historic cemeteries to the point that they had to be closed much of the time.
I was walking through the cemetery up near the Mountainside Theatre the other day. One of the great things about visiting sites on the Boundary and surrounding counties is that there is a good chance that I will find the marker of a relative or acquaintance in many of the yards that I visit. Sure enough, there were some graves of those that I knew and loved interred in this ground. Like many of the grave yards that I visit in western North Carolina, this one had graves that were marked only with rocks, probably because carved stones could not be afforded at the time. Many were marked with the small plastic or metal name markers left by the officiating funeral home, again because the people who passed either didn’t have money or family that could buy them a permanent stone marker. I could tell that some families wanted to give their family members a better marker, because some had carved wooden crosses and scratched names and dates on rocks to try to provide a more fitting memorial to their friend or loved one. Other graves were adorned with large granite markers, all with birth and death dates, some even with marriage dates on them.
I am sure that grounds upkeep is challenging at the cemetery, grass isn’t taking to the ground very well and ground cover is patchy. Tree debris is scattered around the yard due to some recent and no-so-recent wind storms. Loved ones who brought flowers and tokens of remembrance may have thought those items would last till their next visit, but many of the artificial arrangements are scattered throughout the cemetery, some blown apart by the wind. Many of our local cemeteries find themselves in this condition.
Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day” because families and acquaintances would decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers of remembrance dating as far back as the Civil War. In many of our graves on the Boundary are those of Cherokee people who proudly served in the armed forces. As this day of remembrance approaches, it may be a good time to consider the condition of our cemeteries and the final resting places of our loved ones. Is there more that we can do individually and as a community to renovate and clean up our graveyards?
Certainly, we may adopt those cemeteries and tombstones that are in poor repair. Surely, we can make sure that our local cemeteries are cleared of debris and, if we are unable to bring fresh arrangements for the graves, at least make sure the old flowers are cleared away.
Whether or not it is a military grave, the remains of important community members reside in our cemeteries. We should do what we can to honor the memories of past generations and recently lost friends and family by properly keeping up our cemeteries.