Monday, January 30, 2012

A Sad Sweet Place

Almost a year ago, I decided to try again to finish an essay I had been writing for many years about my great grandfather. At the same time, a stranger in California had found my website Down on the Farm with Sue Glasco ( and wrote me inquiring about Martin ancestry.

She was not a Martin descendant but her teenage grandson was, and she was researching family history for him, which I thought was a delightful gift. Our family here knew that one of my father’s first cousins had gone to California many years ago, but that was all we knew. I’d had a local lady phone and inquire about him years ago as she was arranging a school reunion at a country school where he had once taught. I had to tell her no one had his address. This new California friend and I had quite a bit of email correspondence, and I learned a lot about my great Uncle Jim’s only child and the great grandson, whom she loved so much.

My efforts to finish that long essay last spring were aborted by life’s busyness. Recently I once again dug out family notebooks to try and end this project of many years. (Never mind that now the article is much too long for publication in area genealogical magazine; and if I ever finish it, I will have to shorten it.) I wanted to include this new information about Uncle Jim’s family. I also wanted to check the local cemetery where he was buried and make certain his wife (who had finished her life with her son in California) was buried there too.

The rain had stopped, and Saturday was a beautiful sunny day despite the temperature in the low 40s. I had some afternoon time to spare before I was supposed to show up at my daughter’s house at 4. After Gerald’s and my lunch, I quickly cleaned the kitchen and phoned my cousin Dick in Goreville to double check where Friendship Cemetery was. I had been there once many years ago, but I wasn’t sure I remembered. I really wanted to run by and see Dick and his wife Irma while I was in Goreville, but there was not that much time.

Dick gave me excellent directions and even told me this rural road was actually a loop that would take me to the Interstate and a quick way back to Marion and my daughter’s. Sure enough a cemetery sign on the first road going west from Goreville pointed me onto Friendship Loop road just as Dick had described it. I was glad the cemetery was far enough from the main road to allow me to enjoy the hills and hollows, which now contain many attractive new homes built by people who must enjoy that lovely rustic scenery as much as I do.

I wondered if Friendship General Baptist Church would still be there by the cemetery since so many rural churches have died when former populations moved away and newcomers prefer larger churches in town. A large welcoming sign beside the small well-kept church building let me know that this congregation is still functioning. I parked in the parking lot there and felt a little dismay at the size of the cemetery, which also was still being well used. I wondered how I would find the one grave I was looking for when I had no idea were it was located. Shivering, I closed up my winter jacket and wished I’d brought a hat to keep out the bitter cold that was more obvious than the sunshine once I got out of the car.

Obviously many of the graves were quite old, but most were much newer including a grave still covered with fresh dirt and the many flower arrangements which were just beginning to wilt away. A gravel road down the center beckoned as I tried to decide which side of the road to explore. Immediately I saw many tombstones for Stanleys on the north side, and I wondered if these were graves of Dick’s paternal family. Then I figured that probably the oldest part of the cemetery was that directly in front of the church building and that would be the most likely place for 1940s graves. So I decided to explore that south side first.

I headed out on the very damp and thick matted grass and was grateful that despite the rains the previous two days, the ground was not muddy. Some long ago graves were marked with small carefully shaped rocks probably from a nearby creek, and a few of those were not even shaped but just left in their natural state to mark where someone’s loved one lay. Some older style tombstones were elaborate and especially interesting with information on all four sides of tall shaped spikes.

I was seeing names familiar to me from my childhood summers on the farm near Goreville: Maze, Jenkins, and then several Joneses. Uncle Jim’s wife was a Jones, so I walked in that direction and found her parents Louis G. and Sarah buried with their children Oscar and Cordelia beside them in their plot. After a moment of sadness for these children lost so many years ago, I glanced up and quickly saw one Martin tombstone near the Jones’ graves. There it was where Great Aunt Viola Jones Martin, whom I never knew, had buried her husband James Wesley in 1942. In less than five minutes, I was standing by the grave I was looking for. The name and birth year (1872-19) for Viola, who was called Ola in one old census, was there with Uncle Jim’s name (1867-1942). The final two numbers for her death year were never completed, but since her granddaughter remembered that as a very young child she had made a long long trip to bury her grandmother, I was certain I had found her grave beside her loved ones.

I continued to walk around the silent cemetery looking at familiar sir names and some not so familiar. In the older part, there were so many graves for infants and young children, and I felt the gratefulness we all feel for more healthful times. A cemetery conveys grief and sorrow, but there also is evidence of loving family relationships. Walking back to the car on the gravel road, I was gawking at gravestones and did not notice I was walking through a pool of accumulated water. Thus, my feet were wet and chilly when I got into the car, but my heart was warm. From inscriptions and wreaths, I was able to once again sense the sweetness of family love and the deep sadness experienced by others who had trod there before me.


No comments: