Our trip was to honor the lives of three people whose lives are very responsible for how my own life has turned out. My grandfather, Joseph Harper, my grandmother, Amanda Maxine Westmoreland, and my uncle Robert Samuel-- people we have honored in the naming of our children-- Robert Grady and John Harper Westmoreland. My pregnancies and births coincided with the times of their deaths, and I wasn't able to join my family for services when they passed away, so I was so thankful to be able to take their final journey--home-- with them. On this warm, windy mountaintop we laid them to rest, in a graveyard where I spent so many afternoons of my childhood.
My family, despite how far we've scattered, has always stayed very close to our roots. This land has been home to my grandmother's people since the eighteenth century. Every leaning stone has a story behind it. I'm not sure if anyone who isn't Southern spent recreational hours of their childhood in graveyards-- for me, this was the place to learn who I was (and get some really good gossip. Always preceeded by the words "bless her heart...").
These little children-- thank GOD for the advent of antibiotics-- rest peacefully under a wide sky. There are many graves like this-- all with a story behind them. I have vivid memories of hearing my grandmother talk about her older sister, who was helping peel the potatoes for dinner when she was 2 years old, when she became ill and died before the day was over.
Stories have different ways of entering us when we are children. As a mother, I can't let myself think too much about this. But as a child, I felt things differently; I know that the hours spent hearing these stories, making rubbings of these graves, connecting with what came before me, helped to make me an observer, a thinker, a writer.
My grandparents spent much of their lives in Africa, in what is now called Congo, serving as industrial missionaries. My grandfather's strength and ingenuity were legendary--one of our favorite stories is of him changing the tire on a lorry (a really big truck). As his 6'6" body strained to loosen the lug nuts, he called out "it's starting to give!" When he pulled away, the steel lug wrench was bent into a U-shape, and the lug nuts remained tightly fastened. My grandmother home schooled the children, oversaw the girls' school on the mission, clothed her six children in her lovely handmades, and goodness knows what else. She was an amazing person, and I don't really have any adequate words to talk about her. My uncle Rob, damaged by a bad vaccine in his childhood, was ever determined, ever fascinated with all things mechanical, ever quick to make me smile. I miss them all very much.