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Today is May 23, 2022

Mississippi Seen

Family Gathering

By Walt Grayson

Family Gathering

We had another impromptu family reunion a few weeks ago. Another funeral. Only time we can get together anymore, it seems. My brother-in-law passed away. He and my sister had lived in North Carolina for decades. But he was brought back to Mississippi to be buried next to her in the same cemetery where at least six generations of my family are buried.

 There are a few things I remember vividly from my early childhood about going to grandma’s house at Fulton. The Dr. Pepper sign coming into town. I’d see it and know we were there. Grandma’s house itself, of course. And Oak Grove Cemetery at Ratliff. More precisely, Oak Grove is a graveyard. A “cemetery” is a detached place for burials. A “graveyard” is associated with a church — Oak Grove Methodist, in this case, even though most of my family were Baptist.

Anyway, Oak Grove is where we buried my brother-in-law. His funeral was just the latest in a life-long series of caravans out to Oak Grove. As a child, every time we went to grandmother’s all of us would drive out to visit the family graves. We’re kin to about half of the people buried there.

My affection for cemeteries comes from all those visits when I was a child. I learned that family attachments go way beyond this life and cemeteries are for the living, not the dead. According to our beliefs, those who have passed on aren’t there, anyway. We console ourselves by visiting them. And in turn, we want to be buried where people can come visit us.

There is a little house over the grave of one of our distant relatives from the 1800s. She was afraid of storms, and her husband promised that it would never rain on her grave. He built a little house over her when she died. Possibly the only time her grave ever got wet was when the 2014 tornado destroyed the little grave house. The Cemetery Association reproduced it precisely, even milling lumber to exactly match the original boards.

My grandaddy Cummings has possibly the most fascinating grave marker in Oak Grove. He worked in wood all his life as a timber man and sawmiller. One day, he found a petrified tree stump in a creek bottom and hauled it back up to the house. He told grandmother that since he had worked in wood all his life, it would be fitting to have the wood stump as his grave marker. Grandmother replied, “If that’s the case, just take the door off the oven and use it for me when I die.”

 On our way back home, Miz Jo and I mused over the idea of picking a spot for ourselves and being buried at Oak Grove. Britt Curtiss, overseer of the graveyard, said there are two plots right next to my mom and dad. But Jo said it’s a long way up there from where we live for the family to come visit. But we have left kin folks buried behind in many places from which the family has moved on. At least we’d be buried with a lot of other family.

But Jo is still thinking it over. Right now, she likes the new cemetery near our house on Highway 25. I told her, odds are, we wouldn’t have family stay here forever, either. She said, “Maybe not. But that cemetery is between our house and Walmart. So, I’d know you’d drive past me a couple of times a day, at least.”

 

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Walt is also a reporter and 4 p.m. news anchor at WJTV in Jackson. He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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