A dead-end road, a small sign, and a short walk uphill to a shady spot overlooking the river. That’s all it took to give a sense of place here in Carter County, Tennessee.
Most of the gravestones are old, moss-covered, with the words engraved barely readable. There are a few newer ones, the granite sporting the shiny finish more common now that in the old days. That doesn’t matter, the families know who is buried where and they leave plastic flowers to remember those gone before.
The graveyard is next to a tiny white clapboard church, one of the many Freewill Baptist congregations in this area of Tennessee. I never saw any cars there, but then again, I visited on a weekday afternoon, not on a Sunday morning.
Wander through the place and there are names repeated through the generations, some who lived long lives and more than few who only lasted a few days or few years. There is family history here, of people who stayed in one place over a very long time and they knew this place as I never will.
Big buildings, shopping malls, and highways might tell a one story of a place, but I think it’s the cemeteries that tell a more true, more personal story of a place. Long after I leave here, I’ll remember this small set of stone memorials more than I will the stores or laundromat.
The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (from Adonais)