What about the cemeteries?

Published 10:27 am Thursday, June 30, 2016

Occasionally, I pass by a church that is no more.

I don’t want to say it has gone out of business because that carries the wrong connotation. Maybe they will build elsewhere; maybe the congregation died out. Yeah, it happens. But whatever the case, it no longer serves as a church. It’s just an empty building.

I can accept that buildings close. What I wonder about is the cemetery because, many times, behind these old churches is a cemetery.

What, I’ve always wondered, becomes of them?

If no one cares about the roof of the building, does anyone care about the graves? The historian in me finds cemeteries fascinating, while my mortality feels … fear, doubt and dread.

I wonder who these people were, where their family members are and does anyone still come to visit? My guess is within two generations, a person and a church can be forgotten, especially if the family has left the area.

I think about my own family. Our migration is marked by relatives being buried in South Carolina and North Carolina. For a long as I can remember, I’ve gone back to the family church in South Carolina once a year for homecoming — carried by my grandparents as a child and now it is how I spend vacation.

I remember going with my mother and my aunt Barb to the church where my grandmother is buried. My grandmother isn’t at the family church, but with her husband in his church cemetery. I remember we worked to straighten up the headstone that was sinking and leaning forward. We went and bought bags of dirt and filled in around and under it as much as possible. That must have been maybe 25 years ago. Last time I was there, and it’s been a couple of years now, the headstone was still straight and fine.

And when those who called her grandma and looked in her face, and heard her voice and remembered her advice, are gone? Well, she was real to us, but she’s just a name to everyone who follows. Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t my mother. Maybe it was my aunt Linda. I guess like time separates you from a place, it separates you from a memory.

At my family cemetery, one of my cousins maintains the graves. On first Sunday after the service, we will walk around and I will listen to my uncles talk about this great uncle and that great uncle and that great aunt and what they were like, but I’ve never been able to remember names and keep the stories straight about who did what. I can’t help it. They are mostly just names.

Jamie Ruff is a staff reporter for The Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch. His email is jamie.ruff@kvdispatch.com