My sisters and I spent a few weeks each summer playing in the McCoy Bottom under the watchful eye of our ancestors’ cemetery. A familiar landmark above our portion of Peter Creek and the railroad tracks, I didn’t give my family’s burial grounds much thought.
Dad never drove us across the creek, over the bridge and up the steep runoff to the top of the hill to visit his parents’ graves. Neither did Mom take us to see her father’s tombstone, or Aunt Sarah’s, her younger sister.
Throughout my childhood, repeated family stories without tangible proof our dearly departed once lived and breathed, transfigured them into legend-like characters you find in the Bible and literature.
However, my occasional admittance into Granny’s quilt room where two vintage portraits, one of Grandpa Floyd, the other of Aunt Sarah, confirmed respectively Mom’s witness of her father’s curly hair and her sister’s Debate Club pin on her dress.
As a child, the stories of their tragic deaths worried me. Of Scot-Irish descent and superstitious, I suspected if I went to see Aunt Sarah’s grave, I might die at age fourteen as she did.
To fertilize fear, I overheard Mom say to another relative, “Don’t you think Iris looks like Sarah did as a girl?”
When my family celebrated my fifteenth birthday in February 1964, I blew out the candles on my birthday cake with gusto.
By May 1967, a month before my high school graduation, my father no longer lived with us. He called Mom with the tragic news that his nephew, Boonie, serving with the 35th Artillery Regiment in South Vietnam, lost his life while clearing a minefield.
Dad loved Boonie—the first boy I saw boldly smoking a cigarette in his dad’s house.
“He grew up without a mother,” Mom said. “Myrtle died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Boonie was a baby.”
That explained why Uncle Jay, Boonie’s dad, looked sad. And with age came more genetic revelations. Aunt Myrtle, one of Dad’s five sisters, died of the same malady as their mother.
Dad asked my four sisters and me to ride with him and attend Boonie’s funeral in Peter Creek. I felt compassion for my father, but considering our personal conflicts, I declined.
Memory doesn’t recall my whereabouts in Michigan when the lone bugler played the twenty-four-note salute upon the hill for Boonie’s military memorial.
Yet, our Kinsman-Redeemer works in wondrous ways to restore our waste places. I’ve since stood before my grandparents and Aunt Sarah’s graves. I’ve thanked them for watching over me when I was a carefree child climbing green apple trees.
And some summer, I’ll find cousin Boonie’s stone and thank him for his sacrifice.
Meanwhile, every Sunday after church, my husband drives us up a hill in Addison Township. He turns our car into Lakeville Cemetery.
Amongst ancient white pines and maples, we stand before my father’s gravestone with our firstborn’s beside. Dear Reader, we cast a watchful eye over our home, and our family’s burial grounds.
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.