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Who Likes to be Scared?

downloadIt’s the season for haunted houses and horror movies and ghosts. Slaughterhouse. Dead Land Haunted House. Spooks Galore. The Haunting. Night of Demons. Halloween. Cemetery of Terror. A frightening list could fill this column and none would appeal to me. I don’t like being scared and don’t understand why anyone does. One ghost encounter was enough for me.

When I was a high school student, several girlfriends and I spent the night with our friend Nelda. An after school, Friday night slumber party on a late summer day.   We piled our books and overnight bags in Nelda’s room and went outside.

Nelda’s family’s farm was on a gravel road and not another house was in sight. We sometimes walked through the barnyard and across a field to a small cemetery. But that day, we walked the long way around on the country road because the field was planted with corn. Corn stalks, much taller than us, grew and the paths between the rows of corn were too narrow to walk through without being scraped by razor-sharp leaves.

In the cemetery, we laughed and talked. We made up stories about the people whose names were on the tombstones and those whose graves were marked with slabs of unmarked stones. We sat under the low branches of oak and hickory trees as the sun settled low in the sky. Then we got quiet. Quiet enough to hear silence –an eerie sound.

Someone whispered, “Ghosts.” Silence and twilight and tombstones were frightening. Ghosts? Where? Did you see one? My friends and I stood and huddled together. Nelda told us that someone had recently been buried in the back of the cemetery close to the woods. When we looked that direction, the sun probably cast a shadow or maybe a tree branch fell or perhaps a squirrel jumped from a limb to the ground or maybe nothing happened. Someone screamed, “Ghosts!”

We ran. Through the cemetery. Across a graveled road. Climbed a wire fence at a wooden fence post and ran into the cornfield. Corn leaves slapped our faces and scraped our arms and legs. Scared. Hearts beating fast. Away from the cemetery ghosts. A friend’s shoe fell off and still we ran through the biggest cornfield in Tennessee. Screaming for each other to keep up. Hurry.

When we finally made our way to a clearing, Nelda’s dad stepped out of the barn and more than one of us cried. Nelda told him we’d been in the old cemetery and heard scary noises. Maybe ghosts. Her dad was a man of very few words. He walked with us to the house and turned on the outside water spigot. Nelda’s mother handed us a bar of soap and towels. We scrubbed and rinsed and dried.

None of us were really sure what we saw or what we didn’t see. There were later times we same girls sat among the same tombstones, giggled and told stories, as teen-age girls do, but we never saw ghosts again.

Once was enough.

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Stories Told at Cemeteries

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 9.55.59 AM  I was just a young child, about 6, the first time I remember walking in a cemetery. I tagged along with Dad and Granny, Dad’s mother, to place flowers on Granny’s parents’ graves. Mom had cut yard flowers –roses, iris, snowball blossoms – and arranged them in a vase. The Rich Cemetery, a small and private graveyard, had been a part of Granny’s parents’ farm, near the Moodyville community in Pickett County, when the land was deeded to be a cemetery.

Then Mom and Dad took me to Lovelady Cemetery to decorate the graves of Mom’s grandparents. The one thing I remember: walk around the graves, not on them. As a child, I certainly didn’t want to step on dead people. I didn’t know anybody buried in either cemetery. My parents’ grandparents were just as removed from me as the person buried in a grave marked only by a triangle-shaped limestone rock and thirty feet from the other graves in the Rich Cemetery. Those visits to cemeteries were carefree, outside times.

In 1974, my maternal grandfather died suddenly from a heart attack and was buried in the Lovelady cemetery next to his parents. A few years later Dad’s mother was buried in the Story Cemetery in Byrdstown. But I never regularly visited cemeteries until after Mom’s death in 1991. That’s when I began making the ‘decoration rounds’ with Dad. How I cried and hated to stand beside Mom’s grave. But during those yearly trips I’ve learned more about the people whose graves I walk around.

A black man named Toby was buried in the unnamed grave at the Rich Cemetery. He was a slave before coming to Pickett County in the late 1800s. He didn’t have a family, lived around town, and died about 1912, the year Dad was born. My Granny’s brother-in-law requested that Toby be buried in the family cemetery, and about ten years ago my cousin had a stone, with Toby’s name, placed at his grave.

Dad’s favorite uncle is buried near his grandparents. Uncle Scott was a farmer and sold corn to other hog farmers. He put most of his money in the local bank in the 1920s and lost it during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Aunt Doris, Mom’s sister, and I went together to the Lovelady Cemetery one Memorial Day. We secured a silk arrangement on top of Papa and Grandma’s headstone and then she laid a single red rose cut from her flower bush on her grandma’s grave. Aunt Doris explained that Grandma Bertram would go to cemeteries on Decoration Day and say that all she ever wanted on her grave was one pretty fresh flower. Aunt Doris also said that because Grandma Bertram valued reading and education, she opened a community lending library in her home long before a public library came to Pickett County.

Mom and Dad chose burial plots in the Story Cemetery, near their home in Byrdstown, more than a year before Mom’s death. One day during Memorial Day weekend, Husband and I will clean the headstones and place flowers on graves at three cemeteries in Pickett County.

I’m glad to have this way to honor parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and a great uncle. Some I never knew and some I knew well and loved. How I wish I’d written more notes to remember the stories of their lives.

Memorial Day. A time to pay tribute to those who came before us.  A time to share stories. And I’ll cut one pretty fresh flower for great-Grandma Bertram’s grave.

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