He sent me a text that said “Plenty” along with a photo of a gravestone, that had an empty row stretching past it.
Earlier that day, we had buried my great aunt, the last of my grandfather’s siblings, in the cemetery that holds many a Johnson who have lived on that land for the past five generations and passed on.
Under the gazebo at my great uncle’s house, where we all gather after a burial, the 4th of July parade, annual cemetery decoration and other family events, just hours earlier, we had been discussing the cemetery. My husband, who has defied all city boy odds and latched onto this farming thing and love of the land, yet still insists on being cremated, asked my uncle if I had a spot over there at the cemetery.
In the same row as my grandparents and great-grandparents. That row is reserved to the road for all of us, my uncle answered.
Since I was big enough to walk down the hill from the house where I grew up to the cemetery, I always knew where I would be buried. There was never a question of it.
However as I thought about it, I remembered a stone just slightly behind and to the right of my grandparent’s grave. I wasn’t sure if that row was completley empty. This is what prompted my uncle to send me the photo later, reassuring me we all had a spot and that the stone in question was just a foot stone.
I will be buried in the same row as my grandparents in a cemetery atop a hill, beside where a house once stood that the first Johnsons built who lived on this land, across from a pond where I first learned to fish, catch tadpoles and whose muddy banks also claimed one black P.F. Flyer as its victim decades ago.
I once heard someone say, and I hate that I can’t recall who, that “You know a person is a true southerner if they know where they will be buried before their 18th birthday.”
I think I have that covered.
I have never been afraid of the cemetery. We are good friends. It’s always been the place I can go to clear my head, cry and not worry about someone seeing me, and sometimes, just to remember.
Like I did as a kid, my daughter now walks with me through the cemetery when we are over that way. She weaves around the gravestones, picking up the fake, faded flowers that the wind has blown astray and places them back on the graves – just like I once did too.
Even though she never knew them, she knows where her Pap and Grannie, her Uncle Victor, her Hey Bud and Grannie Eva, who she is named after are buried. We sit down in front of their headstones, indian style, and say hello. Sometimes we lay down and look up at the sky and sing a song. Sometimes we have an ice cream sandwich. I tell her stories about each of them and if we have flowers, she meticulously distributes them evenly in the granite vases attached to the gravestones.
And when we leave, we blow a kiss.
I once heard Rick Bragg say, “The thing I love about the South most is how we treat the dead.”
Me too, Mr. Bragg. Me too.
They can live again, as long as we remember.
And if Grunt Labor up and dies before me, which he’s been strongly warned not to do, he’s going in the ground.