The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Memories Of A Cemetery

By Mary A. Summerline © 1991

Issue: May, 1991

Many people think of cemeteries with sadness or apprehension. I can understand that, having lived next to one for several years.

I was six years of age when my family moved to Lewisburg, West Virginia, in 1938. Our house was located next to the Rosewood Cemetery.

According to information obtained from the Eastern Greenbrier County Chamber of Commerce, the cemetery was established about 1921. It was approximately 13 acres in size originally, although only 4 or 5 acres were "occupied" when I first saw it.

The cemetery was rectangular in shape, being longer from east to west than from north to south. It was bordered on the west by US 219, where the entrance was, and on the east by a row of trees, mostly wild cherry. A dirt road on the north side went past Coffman's house to Georgia Piercy's farm. On the south side a dirt road, now Rosewood Lane, led to our house and three other houses to our east.

Our dirt road was more nearly level than the cemetery, so that a basin was formed at the western, or lower, end of the cemetery that sometimes collected water, and no graves were located there. The eastern, or upper part, was high enough so that a bank about five feet high was formed directly across from our property. The bank itself served as a place for us kids to play with our toy trucks, building roads and tunnels in the clay earth. A path led to the upper part of the cemetery, which was an empty field, about 5 or 6 acres in size.

A gravel road encircled the area between the empty field and the basin, and it was within that area that most of the graves were located.

We had no automobile, but often found it necessary to hire a taxicab. Sometimes our dirt road was impassable due to mud or heavy snow or ice, so we made use of the cemetery road.

The empty field often served as a playground for us, and we frequently played ball, flew kites or airplanes made of balsa wood, or had snowball battles. Once my two younger brothers, Jimmy and Jack, and their friend Michael Snyder, who was visiting Piercy's farm, got after me with a hatchet. I don't remember what provoked their attack, and I don't think they would have harmed me, but I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

My brother, Johnny, had a bicycle, and often rode in the cemetery. One day he came home with scrapes from head to foot. I asked him what happened. He said, "I was riding Jimmy on the bicycle, and that idiot leaned the wrong way!" Jimmy was unscathed, and went on to learn successfully.

I wasn't as successful with my bike riding. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't pedal uphill. If you've ever been to West Virginia, you know there aren't many level spots over there. My best friend, Laura Coffman, tried teaching me, but after I ran her bike into some thorn bushes located in the basin, or skinned my knees on the gravel road, she gave up. I finally had to settle for an occasional ride on the back of Johnny's bike.

My brother Jesse was interested in golf, and often practiced in the cemetery. He would tee off from the vacant upper part and aim for the green area outside the circle, where he could do his putting. An occasional ball would hit a tombstone, but no one said anything!

We always tried to avoid any playtime activities when a funeral was being held, or when there were visitors in the cemetery. We would go indoors or play quietly in our own yard.

Daddy knew a lot of people in the area and would occasionally be a pallbearer. I attended a few services for people I knew.

From the front porch of our house we could sometimes hear parts of the funeral services. Some of the most memorable were those for deceased military personnel or veterans, marked by the twenty-one gun salute and the playing of taps. These occurred all too frequently during World War II. On Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, the graves of military personnel were decorated with small American flags.

Sometimes my mother and sisters and I would go for walks in the cemetery, pointing out floral decorations or unusual tombstones. One tombstone had a large vase built into it and one — that of a child — had a lamb on top. The flowers were discarded by caretakers after they had faded, and some rambling roses, apparently from the cemetery, grew on the banks of our road for several years.

Mom and Daddy didn't like for us girls to be out alone after dark. My sisters Bertie and Hilda, the oldest of us children, usually went out together. They said on one occasion someone hid behind the thorn bushes and touched Bertie's leg. They could see the shadow of someone running away in the moonlight. On another occasion they were frightened when my brother, Jesse, and a friend, Elmer Kerns, dressed in white clothing and hid behind a tombstone.

I don't know that I was ever in any danger when walking through the cemetery. My brother Johnny often accompanied me when I went to a movie or a school function. When we had basketball practice my friend Laura would accompany me half way through the cemetery, and then go to her home on the other side of it.

A neighbor told us one time of walking through the cemetery at night and approaching an empty, freshly dug grave. Something white rose from the grave several times and then would fall back in. It turned out to be a goose, struggling to get out.

I once visited the cemetery to watch a coffin being moved after it had been mistakenly buried in a walkway about nine months before. The earth on top was removed, a device containing a winch was attached and it was lifted and deposited in a new hole a few feet away.

On one occasion heavy rains caused a grave to sink, so that the coffin was visible. I had nightmares for several nights after that.

A few days before I entered fourth grade, Gene Harvey, the caretaker at that time, hired Johnny, Jimmy and me to rake grass that had been cut around the tombstones. We each were paid four dollars and I proudly used mine to help pay for schoolbooks.

Over the years the cemetery gradually filled up with graves and was expanded eastward several times, so that it now occupies 18 acres. The row of wild cherry trees is gone. Additional roads were added. Some of the land that was Piercy's farm is filled with burial sites. A large mausoleum has been added. Part of the area is bordered by a chain link fence.

A tool shed stands opposite our old house, and my mother and father are buried at the site where we used to play softball.

Our former home was sold recently when my brother Jack moved to another city, so I no longer have a reason to visit it. However, the cemetery still brings back fond memories of my childhood.

Editor's Note... This year Memorial Day is scheduled for May 27th. If you have loved ones buried in small, private cemeteries, please take the time to volunteer your aid in keeping it clean. Many small churches still observe Memorial or Decoration Day by getting together for this purpose. It will also be a help to future generations who are hunting their family roots.
Susan Thigpen, Editor