The Methodist Church had the oldest and biggest cemetery in town. Most of my ancestors are buried there, and one green parrot. The parrot belonged to my Aunt Gussie who lived to be ninety-nine, but the parrot out lived her by some years. When it died my grandfather sneaked in the night and buried it next to Aunt Gussie.
The Methodist Church Cemetery was not a scary place. It surrounded the church, wrapping it around the back and both sides like the loving arms of Jesus. We children played there between Sunday School and Church, and I walked there with Mama while she pointed out various relatives’ graves, explaining they were not really there, but in heaven. We read the dates and epitaphs, picked violets and then walked back home.
The cemetery was the best fun at the Annual Easter Egg Hunt the church sponsored on Easter Mondays, which is a holiday in North Carolina. All we children brought our baskets and dyed hard-boiled eggs. We turned the eggs over to the Sunday School teachers to hide, while we were shuffled off to a room in the education building. Then we were called out to find the eggs. I wasn’t very good at that, nor did I like to eat hard-boiled eggs. But the tombstones made wonderful hiding places for the colored eggs and I did find a few.
Once we found the eggs we were treated to a traditional “picnic” which in addition to the eggs included crackers, dill pickles, and Coco Cola. I don’t know why that particular menu, but it is what we were served year after year. No sweets were served at all.
Vacation Bible School was another event held by the Methodist Church, and again the cemetery was our playground. In fact, one of the teachers’ helpers, a teenaged girl, would gather a group of us and have us sit down on a low concrete wall that surrounded a family plot to tell us stories during recess. She told us ghost stories right there in the churchyard at Bible School. Not a single person thought anything of that, which as I think back seems more than a little strange. It became the highlight of the week’s activities, that story time, with us sitting at the foot of cousin Claudia’s final resting place.
Some might think all this playing in the cemetery as disrespectful, but I think it was a good thing. I think the people resting there, or looking down from heaven, got a kick out of it. It’s much better than the town’s children thinking it a gruesome place, but rather a place where our ancestors still seemed part of the church family both in worship and the fun.
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