Appalachian Wednesday — Mowing the Cemetery

Aunt Bess
My Great Aunt Bess’ marker. Love those vases!

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?”

Click to Tweet: Mowing the cemetery–getting to know your history

4 thoughts on “Appalachian Wednesday — Mowing the Cemetery

  1. Buffy White

    Tending graves has never seemed that valuable to me, but after reading this post I understand the idea a little better. In Latin America, the Day of the Dead (Nov. 2) is an important holiday. The whole family goes out to the cemetery and decorates and burns candles and has a picnic at the family’s plot. I am amazed that this is a national holiday in many places. I guess it’s the equivalent of Decoration Day. Plastic flowers. I agree with you that they leave something to be desired. But they do last longer than fresh, and if you need to commemorate your dead, I suppose they’re the flower of choice!

  2. Tending graves can be very important – in Holland, the graves of Allied soldiers who fell during the abortive liberation of Spetember, 1944 are tended to this day, traditionally by children.

    As events like this pass out of living memory, it becomes easy to lose the immediacy of history, that real people sacrificed real lives to sliterally save, and shape the world we live in.

    I find the fact that the war graves are cared for by children, severl generations removed from the event (and are even ‘adopted’) to be very encouraging.

    We must never forget that we are supported by the arms of those who have gone before, and that virtually none of the fruits we enjoy are of our own making.

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