Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Grave Thoughts

Along a winding country road that follows a mountain ridge, a small lane turns left...

into the Greenwood Cemetery. Located off of Oil Ridge Road (old Rte 18) in Tyler County, West Virginia, on a west slope overlooking the Ohio River and the small town of Sistersville, the cemetery's tranquillity drew me in. I spent almost an hour among the graves of people who had no connection to me other than a chance exploration on a soft summer morning. What I found there was worth the time.

Family plots terraced down the hillside, edged by stone and grass. I wondered about the time it must have taken to make each plot--back in a time when people took the time to are for their dead in personal ways.

This marker denotes the resting place of a member of "The Grand Army of the Republic." Many Civil War veterans were interred here.

Although the cemetery had been mowed sometime recently, it was obvious that its care was not an easy task. Some stones had fallen over, and on this one a wild black raspberry trailed its ripening berries across the headstone of a young woman. I tasted a few berries--they were sweet and tart, and filled with seeds. Like the cemetery itself, sweet with memories, tart with the sting of death, and filled with the seeds of stories.

Some stone walls were showing the signs of age, but look at the way these plots are laid out along the hill. Would we take such care today? I doubt it.

There were many unique stones to look at--this one, made to resemble a log, was for a small child.

Can you read this stone? Apparently someone either re-carved the words, or re-used the stone. I could make out the words "Laura Howe" and "Was born Nov 2, 1890", "died Aug 2, 19__" (03, perhaps?). I think that's right.

Another stone nestles in the protection of boxwoods that have not been pruned in some time by the look of them. I liked the way the bushes sheltered the grave.

On the lower point, monuments reached skyward. I could hear people talking in the town below, barge horns on the Ohio and cars on the streets. Dogs barked and children played. A man yelled "Get out of there!" A dog yelped.

Many ornate stones graced the hill. I remembered Sistersville's history as an oil and gas boom town in the late 1800's and early 1900's. That explained how people living in a remote town along the river could afford such luxurious stones.
Even though many are quite old (this is the oldest I found, dated 1855), the markers are in remarkably good condition. I believe there are older graves here, and possibly some without markers.

This arresting monument is a family tomb, and there were several smaller stones in the plot surrounding it.

I wondered what the maiden had held in her arms before they were broken off. What broke them? Vandals? A bad storm? I prefer to believe the latter.

Although this is their family name, this one word on a family tomb spoke volumes to me. After a hundred years or more, we still remember those who went before. Their names are here, and the stones proclaim that those below were cherished, remembered and mourned. Walking among the graves, I felt hopeful and reassured that life is not simply a rat race, that when one dies the rest only nod in recognition and continue the race. There are places were those who fell from the track are remembered and honored.

I thought about what it would be like to be laid to rest here, high on a green hill overlooking the river, the sounds of life below drifting up from time to time, and the occasional visitor stopping to stroll quietly among the dead. I think it would be a good place to spend eternity.


Robbyn said...

What a wonderful post. I really love your writing...

deborah wilson said...

This is a beautiful cemetery, Sue, with plenty of character. Land tiered plots are very pretty and necessary. But what becomes of them after there are no family members around to take care of them? They eventually fall and/or crumble. I believe that's why a lot of the modern cemeteries, at least in my area, are flat/low hill terrain. I guess it makes it easier to care for them. But in some of them, very few monuments, with flat markers; even flowers aren't allowed to stay more than a few days. The grounds stay clean and neat but it looks and feels so...cold and impersonal.

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