White Crosses for 35 Souls

Twelve years ago, my parents noticed that many of the older graves in our family cemetery no longer receive flowers for Memorial Day or at any other time of year. Even the ones that traditionally had been decorated every year no longer received visitors. I imagine that those who traditionally cared for them were people like my grandparents who have passed.

My dad commented on how lonely some of the graves seemed. Forgotten, he said. These aren’t just stone slabs in the ground. He pointed out that each grave represents someone’s parent, sibling, child, friend. Each grave represents someone who walked this earth, breathed air, lived and died. To someone at some time, every person buried in that cemetery was the most important person in the world.

My folks had this conversation the day before Memorial Day 2010. The two sprang into action — my dad heading to the garage and my mom to the dollar store. Dad constructed simple wooden crosses using lumber he had on hand. My mom purchased inexpensive silk flowers to attach to each cross. And by the following day, they had enough wooden crosses adorned with flowers to place at every grave in Garrett Cemetery where some of my immediate family is buried.

By the following year, they had painted all those crosses white, echoing the simplicity of the famous white crosses in Arlington.

Sadly, we lost another one of our own this year. My aunt Maryann left this world in August, joining her parents, husband and child in the little cemetery down the road from my home. My dad went back to the garage to assemble another white cross.

Thirty-five souls rest in that cemetery and thirty-five white crosses have been lovingly placed by my parents again this year.

They are modest people and don’t do it for the attention. It is a simple act but one with great impact. It is a moving sight, these white crosses. My mother insists that if every person who takes flowers to a grave would take an extra bouquet for someone who doesn’t receive visitors, the world would be a better place. I think she is right.

I wish I knew more of the stories behind the headstones but I do know some. My grandma’s brother died of influenza, just a toddler in 1922. My aunt and uncle — two of my favorite humans ever — each died young, leaving behind a hole in our family like none other.

My great-great-uncle Hobart Garrett was a farmer who died an old bachelor. There is an empty space next to him that I presume was for a wife who he never met living out here in the country. Hobart’s sister was a school teacher who had no kids of her own and who seemed to not really like kids. I have a small hand bell she used at the school as well as a handful of postcards, textbooks and even a purse that belonged to her.

All 35 were people just like you and me. All of them had a story to tell. Even if we don’t remember their stories, it’s nice to honor their memories.

My parents seem to think that no one else notices their crosses but I notice and I’m glad they do it.

If you’re out and about decorating graves this Memorial Day, perhaps consider taking extra flowers for a neglected grave or at least take a moment to brush the grass clippings off some headstones. Small gestures such as these may not change the world but you never know who is watching and besides, you’ll know that you did something nice for someone who can offer nothing in return.

Concord Church And The Underground Railroad

Sometimes the draw to see a place is just too strong to fight. That was the case yesterday as I had been fighting a gnawing desire all week to visit a specific site.

It’s a church and it was an important station on the Underground Railroad in my region. Yesterday wasn’t an ideal adventure day as it was overcast with threats of rain. However, I went anyway and came home with plans to return for better pictures some blue sky day.

The destination was Concord Presbyterian Church near Frankfort. Technically, it’s a few miles from Frankfort at a little place called Lattaville. The congregation dates back to 1805 and started in a log structure. In 1822, they built this brick building.

Honestly, it is a beautiful church just to look at but the knowledge of what went on here is what makes it truly special in my mind.

Reverend James H. Dickey was an active abolitionist in Ohio. He and two other families from his congregation were Underground Railroad conductors.

They hid fugitives in the church loft.

From here, escaped slaves were either taken into Frankfort or Chillicothe for the next leg of their journey.

Today the church sits at the intersection of two country roads. The church presides over passersby from atop a hill. The carefully tended cemetery is filled with older graves, trees and old fashioned flowers. The birdsong is lovely and I saw a deer in the field behind the churchyard. It’s peaceful. And yet, I had the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t alone.

You may think I’m crazy but I think that places have life within them long after people leave the building. You’ve heard the phrase “if walls could talk.” They may not be able to speak but I think very old walls hold memories and emotions.

This place exuded feeling for me – both good and bad. I lingered, in no hurry to leave, as I tried to picture all this church has likely seen. Imagine over almost 200 years how many weddings and funerals, christenings, tragedies and celebrations this church has known. How many families have come and gone?

How many escaped slaves found refuge here? And where did they go after they left? What happened to them? Did they make it to freedom?

When I talk history, my mind always shifts to sepia or black and white:

In school, lessons about slavery, the War and the Underground Railroad erred on the side of vague and detached. It didn’t sound so bad the way most of us were taught this chapter in our history. It wasn’t until college where I minored in history that my education on the subject took a deep dive into the realities and horrors of these matters.

In recent years, I have grown to appreciate how different my experiences in this country have been as compared to those who live other places or who look different than me. With that in mind I make an effort to step inside the minds of people different than me and to better understand their experiences.

As hard as I try, there are some events in history and some peoples’ stories that I will never be able to comprehend. But I still try.

I cannot imagine the horror of being considered chattel, valued by an owner as one would value a cow or a horse. I cannot imagine being forced to live and work in conditions designed by someone else or the fear of having my own children ripped from my arms and sold.

I cannot imagine escaping, sprinting for freedom, and the constant fear of all that could go wrong or the terror of going back.

I cannot imagine the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with such a long journey in an age before automobiles or air travel. I cannot imagine relying on strangers for help.

I cannot imagine the grief of leaving behind family and friends and the only life that you’ve ever known.

I cannot imagine the uncertainty of what the future will hold and how you will make a living if your escape is successful.

I cannot imagine allowing myself the hope that someday freedom will be mine.

Capturing fugitive slaves was a lucrative business. Attempting escape, attempting to help fugitives – this was all incredibly dangerous. What risks did this minister and his flock take to help others?

Why would anyone think that holding slaves is the right thing to do?

We act as though slavery was a long time ago but it really wasn’t.

As you can tell, this visit to Concord Church was more than just a trip to see a neat old church and the timing is no coincidence. With all that’s happening in our country, today, the reckoning that is taking place has me trying to learn as much as possible and to at least attempt to understand someone else’s view of the world.

The history buff in me says the best means for understanding today is to understand how we arrived at this place.

Wherever you are in this world, I’m guessing there are historic sites that are accessible to the public. When it’s safe, I hope that you will choose one to visit. Ask yourself what really went on at this place. Who was here? What was their life like? Don’t just look at an old place. Try to step into another time, into someone’s mind and absorb what this place really stands for and can teach you.

It’s a kind of personal growth that is tough to explain but so rewarding to experience.

Memorial Day

There’s no better time than the present to remember that freedom isn’t free. I found this man in the far corner of a cemetery on Sunday. I don’t know his story but am grateful that there are still veterans organizations and volunteers who make sure that he is remembered.

Have a good day, friends. Let’s all take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is really about.

Mt Zion Church In Black And White

Saturday’s adventure was hampered by the clouds which moved in and settled over the area for much of the day.

I used the gloom to my advantage for some black and white photos at this old church.

It is no longer used and there’s a window broken out. White curtains flutter in the breeze.

This is how they protected the glass on most windows. I like it.

It has a well maintained cemetery and I recognized many names as I wandered through. Here’s another view.

You can see here that the sky was a bit moody – not great for happy adventures but nice for some dark photography!

Wonder What She’s Thinking?

In addition to churches, barns and vintage signs, I have a mild obsession with old cemeteries. This statue is in Grandview Cemetery in Portsmouth, Ohio.

I used to walk regularly in that cemetery and always looked for this statue. She’s lovely and sad, peaceful and thought provoking. There are other statues and interesting headstones but this is the most notable by my estimation.

Some people say that it’s wrong to photograph cemeteries because it’s sacred ground. But the graves are also monuments to people who someone didn’t want to be forgotten. There are people here – sons and daughters, parents, grandparents and friends – who someone wanted to remember. I say remember them. Read their names, imagine lives lived between the dashes and yes, photograph the ones that capture your attention if that’s what you want to do.

Wouldn’t you want someone to remember you?