Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cemetery

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.

The Wizard of Peachtree Bend

He was the wizard of Peachtree Bend. At least that’s what his friends called him. He could tell you facts about anything that came up in conversation, and that irritated them, his friends. It didn’t matter if you were talking about the weird bird that had come to Bonnie Sue’s birdfeeder, or what was under the hood of Jimmy Johnson’s race car, Harold could go on and on with little known facts on the subjects. Most of the gang believed he was making it up.

Harold, the wizard, also loved to look at the stars. That is why he often brought his telescope to the park at night. He didn’t look like a wizard, but wore the garb of a biker: leather jacket, dew rag, jeans, and black boots. He strapped the telescope to the back of his bike, and after dark when most of the people who crowded the small square during the day had moved down to the riverfront clubs and night life, he drove to the square and set up the scope. The park had a statue of a figure on a horse. Harold knew it was General Braxton E. Fiddler, a local hero from the War Between the States. Not many people had ever heard of him. They had to read the sign at the base to learn he’d been killed in a small skirmish which had taken place on the very ground that was now the park. A park where shoppers sat down to rest and an old homeless guy played his saxophone for small change. The saxophone player used some of the change to buy peanuts that he shared with the pigeons that pooped on General Fiddler’s hat.

But at night Harold could look at the stars in peace. He didn’t have to impress the General with his knowledge of planets and constellations, and the pigeons had gone to nearby trees to roost for the night. No, there was no distractions, no one to guess how damn lonely he was since Jeanine left him twenty-five years ago. Sometimes he thought of the blood that had been spilled on the ground where he stood, peering though the lenses that brought the universe so close it seemed he could reach out and touch the moon and the stars. Sometimes he wished he’d been there, lying at the feet of General Fiddler, watching the life ooze out of him. How much blood did it take before there was not enough to sustain life? He used to know. He’d have to look that up so if it were to come up in conversation he could tell his friends, and impress them with his knowledge.