The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Recollections at Jeanette Cemetery

By L. Milton Hankins © 1990

Issue: April, 1990

Forty-plus years now I've been making the annual Memorial Day trek back to old Jeanette Cemetery, near Lookout, in Fayette County, West Virginia. The last thirty-two I've placed a wreath on my mother's grave. Precious few years I've missed, like when I was in the service. Some years I've driven from as far away as St. Louis, Missouri.

This is the first year I seriously wondered why I perform this ritual!

I didn't run into a single Blume, Flint, Forren, Dietz or Tully. Sadly, not a soul except me wandered among the stones around noon on Memorial Day, which by the way, was really Tuesday. Maybe it's because I went on Monday! A few graves were decorated with fresh flowers; most bore faded silk flowers, some obviously recycled.

I leaned against the stone wall, looked off toward Spy Rock, and thought about bygone days when, at any one time on "Decoration Day", a hundred or more people would have been meandering around the hallowed ground chatting, renewing old acquaintances, and lovingly tending the graves. Everybody had somebody buried at Jeanette!

Thirty-five years ago, the good folks at Lookout Baptist Church raised money by selling hot dogs and old-fashioned potato salad and such, and sometimes they had a sing. Memorial Day was extra special then, especially, to us kids. We met cousins we didn't know we had. We got big hugs from aunts we hadn't seen for a year or so. We received the traditional warning about playing around the old, flat, full-length slabs - there's snakes around them, you know! We played hide-and-go-seek around the exquisitely-carved stones in the Boone section and wondered "how come" their section was exclusive since none of the Boones' relatives ever seemed to appear.

Then, too, we learned about our roots, our family heritage. It was custom to walk from stone to stone reciting how we were related to this one or that one. I knew exactly where my maternal great-grandparents rested. Every year, until I could never fail to recall it, I heard how great-grandmother Sarah Thomas had planted the giant oak tree in the middle of the cemetery, beneath which she was laid to rest at age ninety-nine. The Tully's, the Dietz's, the Perry's, the Allports - all of them could trace themselves to Sarah Thomas, directly or obliquely.

My paternal grandparents, Hezekih Matteson and Lula Burns Hankins, rest in Jeanette Cemetery, as well. For some reason, ("perpetual care," they said) Tom and Pearl Allport, my maternal grandparents, chose to be buried at Victor's Memorial Gardens. Somehow it still doesn't seem right. But, they do have perpetual care. In a few weeks, Memorial Gardens will be swept clean of Memorial Day tributes. At Jeanette they'll stay until some member of the family removes or replaces them.

Every year, since fifth grade, I have stood a few moments beside the grave of little Jimmy Flint, the only one of my classmates from Winona Graded School who never made it to Nuttall High School. Now, it's gone too - the high school, that is!

As the years have gone by I've noticed fewer and fewer people returning to Jeanette. The special "doin's" are no more. The caretaker collection box has been moved to a more obvious spot nearer the main entrance. Many of the graves are neglected. There's no more any reason to assign a deputy to direct traffic flowing onto and off of Route 60. The school band doesn't play there anymore.

So, why do I go back when so few seem to care anymore?

Obviously, because I still want to show respect for my ancestors, to whom I owe so much. Because I want to remember all those stories from my childhood so I can pass them on. Because I yearn for the good 'ol days? That, too! Because what remains of all those wonderful people lying in Jeanette Cemetery is me and others like me. Yep!

I reckon I'll show up again next year. I hope I'm not the only one!

Editor's Note: Many old cemeteries are in a bad condition because family members have all passed away and there is no fund to perpetuate them. This Memorial Day would be a good opportunity for you to "adopt a graveyard." Give one day of your time to cleaning a portion of an old graveyard that needs it, but no longer has relatives to sustain it.