We’ve gone from winter to grass-mowing season here in Western North Carolina. Lawns are suddenly lush and thick and green . . . and in need of maintenance. Let me just say, I’m not a fan of cutting the grass.But mowing our yard still beats mowing Laurel Fork Church Cemetery. This was my family’s job when I was growing up. If you think mowing around some trees or shrubs is a pain, try a hundred or so gravestones. When I was younger, my job was to run out ahead of the person going around each stone with a push mower to pick up the flowers then put them back again. Neon pink roses, daisies made from grainy fabric, plastic peonies. Gack.
I loved those arrangements that slid down over the tops of the stones. Or the stones with built-in vases on either side. Apparently just about everyone in that cemetery had someone who cared enough to leave fake flowers, though, because it seemed like there were only a handful with nothing on them.
Remembering the dead is important in Appalachia. Although my family kept up the cemetery throughout the year, Decoration Day was the one time when others came to help, too. (Of course, they also loaded the place up with new flowers that would have to be moved when the grass got high!) I’ll write more about Decoration Day when it rolls around this summer.
The thing is, as much as I loathed those pink, plastic flowers, I’m glad now I spent my youth working in the cemetery. I not only know where much of my family is buried, I’ve brushed grass clippings from their stones. I’ve gathered daisies for the tiny babies stillborn to my great-aunt. I’ve made up stories about the soldiers with flags on their graves. I’ve walked over the caskets of my ancestors a hundred times.
My grandmother said it was bad luck to step on someone’s grave. Maybe. But then again, maybe it’s good luck to stop, stoop, tend the flowers, and pull the weeds. Maybe mowing the cemetery robs death of some of its sting.
I Corinthians 15:55 – “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”
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