Thursday, December 14, 2006

Return to the Hill Country

Part 4 -- The Grove

The family of my great-grandmother Nannie was the last of my relatives to settle in the Hill Country of Texas, arriving in 1879. Her parents lived in a 2-story house on a flat stretch of high ground. Nannie lived there in later years, as did my dad, one year. The school in his neighborhood went only through the 10th grade. He lived with his grandmother so that he could attend the 11th grade and graduate from high school. The little rock schoolhouse down the road had a graduating class of 8.

In 1882, Nannie’s little brother, Willie, died. My great-great grandparents laid him to rest in a live oak grove a couple of hundred feet west of the house. The cemetery took on the name of Nannie’s family, even though it soon grew into a community burial ground. The house is long gone, marked only by a cistern and a straggling fig bush. In fact, the cemetery is now so large that most of the house site is within its fence. The oldest area, under the live oaks, is filled with my kin. I remember hearing accounts of my grandmother’s funeral in 1934--the casket being carried directly from the house to the grove, the waves of grief and incomprehension of the children, the uncomforting words of the preacher—as they laid her to rest, next to her father and near her Uncle Willie. The effects of her untimely death still ripple down through the generations.

From the early 1980s through the mid 1990s, I would visit my favorite uncle, who had retired to nearby Georgetown. Our Saturday morning routine would never vary—after a pot of coffee and pecan waffles, we would hit the road. Sometimes we would visit this or that family landmark. Sometimes we would drop in for a cup of coffee with another uncle, though always leaving before the war-stories could begin. We would often check on various older relatives, with my uncle being the self-assigned caretaker. We might even stop by Jimbo Davis’ roadhouse on the way back. But always, we would stop at the live oak grove.

Here we would perpetuate an age-old country tradition. Neither of us knew why it started, or why we continued to do it. We would keep our family’s graves “mounded-up.” Grave sites here are rocky by nature, and seldom grassed over. Old-timers would keep the graves slightly mounded. The cemetery association maintains a pile of rough, course sand just for that purpose. So, we would remember to throw a wheel barrow and shovels in the back of the truck before leaving, and we would, if needed, “mound-up” the graves of my grandfather, grandmother and grandmother’s father. This must be a central Texas thing. It is certainly not done in East Texas, or other parts of the South.

My favorite uncle himself now lies in the grove, as does another uncle and his wife. I try to attend the cemetery work-days whenever possible, though there is little to do. The association does an excellent job of maintaining everything. But we meet out there anyway, and rake the acorns and leaves away. And when need be, I mound-up the graves, and most especially that on my uncle.


Hilarius said...

I wonder about the habits of grave tending and its relationship to a half-remembered belief in the resurrection. When I was in the Middle East, I got to view a Shi'a cemetery and my local guide noted that the graves were only kept for as long as there was someone to remember the person (unless the person was quite famous), maybe a generation, maybe two, and then the grave was opened, the bones moved over (not exhumed and placed in an ossuary like at Mt. Athos) and a new body for burial placed in with the old and a new marker placed at the head. The cemetery was rather sad in a different way from the sadness of an old, half-forgotten pioneer cemetery in the West of the U.S. but it's hard to describe.

I haven't been commenting, but I've enjoyed your posts, and love the picture of Agia Sophia you recently posted.

Have a blessed Nativity!


Terry (John) said...

Thanks, hilarius. Yes, I think there may be some link with the remembrance of the resurrection. That, and perhaps for those without a substantial marker, this was a way of perpetuating the spot. Another theory can be found here:

Are you in the States now?