I had some time before the funeral on Saturday, so I went over to the part of town where the 3 old cemeteries are (the “new” one is on the far side of town, because it’s a small town) – the public one that dates back to the Civil War, the Catholic one and the Jewish one.
The Catholic and Jewish cemeteries are sort of land locked, small – you can see the whole of either of them from their respective front gates. The Catholics have since purchased a section in the “new” public one across town and had it reserved as a Catholic area. The Jewish community, like so many other things that were once vibrant in my hometown, has gone. The synagogue was transferred to the state heritage department and can be rented for public events and the cemetery has an endowment fund and a caretaker. These cemeteries are in a row, and when you pass them you head into a rural area that becomes a national state park with a gravel road.
The cemeteries are just barely minutes from the church where I would attend a funeral, and I had time so I walked around for a little bit. Many stones dated back to the 1800’s, and some would say the European birthplaces of the deceased. Some of the family names rang familiar, not from me growing up but from my job in the big city. It’s not hard to imagine that sons and daughters made it 80 miles up the road. Commerce, mercantile, and opportunity have pulled people out of my hometown probably since the beginning.
I’m not a photographer. But I like to visit cemeteries and I usually wish I had invested in a notepad and charcoal but I’ve never actually purchased charcoal or that thin paper you need to do a grave rubbing. I'm walking, I'm walking, I'm snapping pictures.
I’m walking, I’m walking. I realize there’s something that looks like a tombstone, but it’s metal and hides a water spigot. Neat idea, functional for lawn care. I’m walking, I’m walking. I notice a tree that is down that fell on some old markers and I take a picture to remind myself to find out who the groundskeeper is – I’m walking, I’m walking.
I walk up on a stone and recognize the last name. They’re from a farming community on the far side of the county. I realize the man is a father to a friend of mine. I had lost touch with my friend some years back - I knew him to be very ill. For a while he lived outside of Nashville, and once I asked MyFella to take a huge detour on a road trip so I could visit him. I found him after a while in a nursing home, it was an awkward visit because he couldn’t really talk. But anyway, there was his dad.
And a second later, there was my friend. He died 3 years ago. I didn’t know it. It makes sense that in 1947 when he was born, his family probably came over from that side of the county to worship, but it never occurred to me that he might be there. I didn't expect to walk up on his name, his grave.
If I were a painter, I would try to paint the picture. Within a short walk is a levee holding back the Mississippi River. The sky was grey and overcast. An uncomfortable breeze was blowing – not a gentle wind. The grass has all died. It is a dreary morning.
In this very old cemetery, my friend has the newest tombstone.