The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Carolyn McClellan © 1986

Issue: July, 1986

The iron gate creaked on its hinges as I pushed it open and we entered the family cemetery. Warm June sunshine slipped through the trees and formed a dappled pattern on the grass that covered the graves. A hush hung over the place that even the birds in the nearby trees respected.

My seven year old daughter flitted across the cemetery like a summer butterfly. I called her back and admonished her not to walk across the graves.

We walked hand in hand through the country cemetery that was the final resting place for generations of my husband's family.

My child, secure in her new found knowledge of deciphering the written word, rambled ahead of me and read the inscriptions on the tombstones.

I stopped and waited while she caressed a stone lamb that marked one of the graves. After a moment, she inquired "Mama, why do all these people have our name?"

I explained that they were her ancestors her father's people. I told her that they were born here in the mountains and had never moved away to the city like her father and I had. They had lived their entire life here and when they died they had been buried here on the mountaintop.

Lost in thought, I stood staring at the graves nestled in their sheltered grove. For me, it was a homecoming of sorts, an appreciation of who we really were.

She circled the cemetery and I followed her progress along the orderly rows of graves as she studied her heritage etched on the weathered stones.

Queen Anne's Lace had straggled up around a stone and as I reached to pull the weeds from the ground, she came back to help. She brushed a clump of leaves from one of the mounds of earth and asked "Did I know them?"

"Only in memories," I responded.

I felt an urgency to share with her our family origins that were so deeply rooted in these Virginia Mountains. We sat in the golden afternoon sunshine with our arms clasped around our knees and I tried to impart to her the things I knew of our people who rested here. There were no tales of glory or heroism. There were just stories about God fearing country people, a legacy of simple stories handed down from generation to generation.

Bees droned over the snowball bushes as we sat together and I tried to acquaint her with these people that she could only know through her father and me.

The sun had begun to slip behind the trees on the ridge when we stood and shook the grass from our clothes.

As we left, she stood on tiptoe and latched the gate to keep the cows from wandering through the cemetery. We walked to the end of the overgrown lane and looked back at the little square of ground surrounded by pasture land.

Recalling my grandmother telling me that we lived through our children, I realized that the people buried there in that little mountain cemetery would indeed continue to live through my child.