The cemetery where Mom rests is small. I remember it as being much bigger, of course, but everything there is smaller than I remember. But most of my memories of Alabama predate my adulthood, so things that seemed enormous to a child don’t seem quite so large to an adult.
I’ve written about it before, just as I’ve written plenty of stories (and even a book! Or two!) set in the county of my birth, where my people are from as we say in the South, and where my people are buried. Before Mom died, I hadn’t been to this cemetery since we laid my paternal grandfather to rest in those blurry years between the turn of the century and Hurricane Katrina. But I’ve written about this cemetery in an unpublished short story I originally wrote in 1983, called “Whim of the Wind” that opens When I was young and spending the summers in Alabama, the graveyard at White’s Chapel held a peculiar fascination for me. When I wrote those words, I was living in California and hadn’t been back to Alabama in at least two or three years; it would be another eight before I returned for my last visit pre-funerals. That story was loved and appreciated not only by my professor but by the class as well. I tried several times to get it published, but to no avail; there’s something missing from the story itself that makes it incomplete, but no editor whose ever read it has been able to put their finger on it. (I do recall having solved the problem after reading Art Taylor’s brilliant story “The Boy Detective and the Summer of 1974”, but of course didn’t write it down and don’t remember what it was. (I shall reread Art’s story at some point to see if it triggers my memory; it really is upsetting that I didn’t write it down–which I always do)
And yes, it’s called White’s Chapel. I always assumed it was called that because it was “whites only”; Dad told me over the weekend of the funeral that it was built by someone named White, which is how it got its name. Hurray for it not being racist in origin? Small victories. But when I was there that time, we drove around the county and through the little town/village which was really where all the Blacks in the county were forced to live, which is no longer the case but was when my parents were children. Lovely, right? I still don’t remember ever seeing any Black people during my childhood visits, which seems hardly possible, does it?
I am both of Alabama and not of Alabama. Dad and I talked about that this weekend, too–I don’t think my sister feels the same tug from Alabama that I do. It’s weird for him to go back there, too–there’s hardly anyone left that he knows; even my aunt commented that she didn’t know a lot of people in the county anymore, and thats kind of sad. The land my grandmother’s house sat on has been sold and the house itself–uninhabitable for years–will be torn down and that part of my history, that part of my life story, will be gone forever. My grandfather’s house, where Dad grew up, is long gone and I think my eldest cousin’s son is going to build a house there. The small, battered old houses I remember from when I was a kid are also all gone; enormous McMansions of brick and mortar with columns and muli-car garages dot the landscape now, so it doesn’t seem as poor down there as it used to.
We started the day at the cemetery where my maternal grandparents rest alongside my youngest uncle, thrown from a rolling car when he was eighteen and the car rolled over him; I remember the funeral but never knowing much more than he died in a wreck (the driver was drunk; the other two riders escaped with minor injuries). There are lots of relatives and ancestors at Studdard’s Crossroads cemetery, which is also well off the paved county road on an incredibly narrow red dirt road. We stayed there for a few hours, and then headed over to see where my mother’s grandparents were buried; another where my other uncle is buried, and finished off at White’s Chapel, with Mom and my paternal two uncles (one died when he was two). It’s so beautiful there, and so different than what I remembered and have written about–which is actually a good thing; I completely fictionalized the present-day county predicated on my childhood memories–but yes the pine forests and the red dirt, the incredibly blue sky, and fall away drops alongside the roads (not near as steep and deep as I remembered).
I’m glad I went. Seeing Dad again, seeing that he’s okay, lifted an enormous weight from my shoulders–I was terribly worried and hated being almost eight hundred miles away–but also being able to talk to him about Mom, and their shared histories, as well as more family histories on both sides that I didn’t know, was a big help. I by no means think I am over the hump or well on the way to recovery; I know from my own bitter experience that you can have a good day after a trauma and thus think with relief, oh good now I can get on with everything only to have one of the dark days immediately after. It takes time to heal, and I am never going to stop missing my mother. I just have to get used to not having her anymore.
(I had originally intended to post this yesterday, but then I got the Anthony news and that kind of sidetracked the day for me.)