Shannon Bardwell: Grave discoveries

December 5, 2009 1:43:00 PM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


My little basket of cemetery tools seemed woefully inadequate as I faced a stalk as tall as me growing right out of the middle of the gravesite. I had just driven two hours to clean and decorate the grave, but for this job I would possibly need power tools. 


Missing from my Southern upbringing was the tradition of cleaning and decorating a gravesite. I had recently learned that many Southerners, during reunions or church homecomings, go to cemeteries and do this for the graves of their loved ones, or even those of strangers.  


A dear friend described to me how her stepmother taught her to care for the grave of my friend''s mother. Together they had picked out an appropriate basket, added hand clippers, a spade, gloves, jar of water and some flowers. Annually they would go together, later my friend alone, to the gravesite for cleaning and decorating.  


I thought this a lovely tradition, but apparently I was a little late. The stalk looked like a giant rhubarb; there were massive vines and leaves and a few fallen limbs. Obviously I would have to come back later, better equipped and perhaps with help. 


Reflecting back, I remembered the day my family came to pick out these gravesites. I was a little stunned to find out we were going to Alabama to select our final resting place since I had never met any family from Alabama. Apparently there was a church cemetery filled with folks from my father''s family for generations. My uncle and grandfather were buried there. I saw gravestones with the same name as my father, the very same name. 


Later I had asked my older brother, "Why didn''t I know about this?" He said that they used to come before I was born. Then the relative they had stayed with died, and the reunions just sort of fell apart. He had many memories of summers in Alabama. It was like we had two completely different upbringings. 


That day the family marked off the spots while I wandered around in discovery. We returned on a later trip to look at the concrete boundary they had ordered to surround eight or 10 sites. I stood back and glanced from right to left, "Do y''all realize that you have placed us right in the middle of the Ashcrafts? What do you think the Ashcrafts will think of this?" Everyone looked, hummed, and went on. I apologized to the Ashcrafts. 


Until the day my parents died, I honestly believed that God and I had this little deal that they never would die. ''Cause if they did, then I would fly off the earth ''cause there would be nothing to hold me here.  


Then I learned that there was no deal and, no matter what happens, you will never be separated from the earth. And it was OK. 


"For dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19.

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.