Visiting the cemetery circa 1977

L-R: Mrs. John H. Osborne Sr. (Maude); Bonnie Wallen Hurd; Daran Nottingham; Lonnie Hurd (partially hidden); Wanda Wallen Osborne; John H. Osborne Jr.; Null Wallen; Mary Wallen Roller (standing, back); Teresa Williams Roop (sitting); Jack Wallen; Calloway Roller; Leona Clendenin Wallen; Ann Wallen Addington.

Flower Gap Cemetery. 

Memorial Day is a week from tomorrow. While that’s a national holiday meant to pay homage to those who gave their lives in service of the U.S. military, for many of us it also signals “Decoration Day” season at many family and church cemeteries.

At least those family cemeteries that remain accessible.

My Easter Sunday column told the story of my grandfather accepting Christ on a narrow path, and how my great-great-aunt Florence Willis Robinson heard his shouts of joy and came out to join him.

Aunt Florence and her husband Floyd Robinson are buried in a small cemetery nearby. But passing by on the road I’d never know it. As Mom’s first cousin Millard Ray Hall wrote her recently: “It’s like a wilderness. It looks like part of the woods.”

Millard Ray, who has in the past cleaned brush from the cemetery, is trying to rally enough kinfolk to pay a man to clear it again. He’s put $100 “in the hat,” as have two of my first cousins. Mom let a great-granddaughter of Aunt Florence know, and she pledged support as well.

Millard Ray calls it the Gilliam Cemetery. I’ve found it listed as the Robinson Cemetery online. It is located on a hill behind where “the Gilliam place” once stood. It appears the largest, most modern tombstone is for Aunt Florence and her husband Floyd (Robinson). I can see how either name could be derived.

Other names from markers in the cemetery include Maness, Peters, Baker, Johnson, Payne and, of course, Gilliam. Among the Gilliams: Sgt. Carl F. Gillam, who died at 21 while fighting for our freedoms in World War II. His grave, of course, would be deserving of the significance of Memorial Day. If it is accessible.

To my knowledge I’ve never visited the Gilliam/Robinson Cemetery. I hope to someday.

For Mom’s family Decoration (the “Day” usually gets dropped in conversations) referred mainly to marking the graves of family and other loved ones at Flower Gap Cemetery in Lee County. Flower Gap Primitive Baptist Church is across the way on another hillside.

Decoration at Flower Gap coincides with the church’s annual memorial service, the date of which is explained in Eastern District Primitive Baptist Minutes as “the Sunday following the fourth Saturday in May.”

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If I’m reading the calendar and doing my math right, that’s a week from today.

Today, I’ve been told by my cousin Brenda Lawson Mays, is the memorial service at Beech Grove Primitive Baptist Church. So today is Decoration at the nearby cemetery where Brenda’s parents and paternal grandparents are buried.

I’ve always heard it called the Moore Cemetery. It is where my great-grandfather Richard Wallen is buried, along with his last wife Nancy Gilley Hurd Wallen. Family lore has my grandfather Null’s mother, also a Nancy, buried in an unmarked grave that is perhaps now outside the chain-link fence added years after her death.

Popie Null’s full-sister, Aunt Jane Wallen Moore, is buried near great-grandfather Richard. Mom is Jane’s namesake (Wanda Jane). Another headstone marks the grave of Popie’s half-brother John Wallen.

So that’s at least three “stick flowers” Mom will want me to buy so she can continue to honor Popie’s long-ago request to pay our respects on Decoration Day.

What I call the Moore Cemetery is easy to access and kept up well. We both miss the shade once provided by a now-felled tree. The last time we visited, the void caused by the rotting roots of the missing tree had caused the earth to shift and upset the tombstone of Popie’s stepmother (I call her Second Nancy).

We weren’t sure who of her direct descendants are left or how to let them know if they want to have the tombstone, fortunately not broken by the fall, properly reset.

Flower Gap, called Johnson Cemetery by some, is where Popie Null and Grandma Pearl are buried, as well as several of my aunts and uncles and other relatives. Grandma Pearl passed before I was born, so we’ve visited the cemetery regularly my whole life.

The view from the fenced-in cemetery, not far from the crest of a ridge, is stunning. It always seems peaceful to me. We are thankful that it is maintained beautifully. Traditionally, donations have helped keep it that way.

The Willis Cemetery at Kyle’s Ford, where a lot of Grandma Pearl’s family are buried, also is well-maintained and we are thankful each time we visit. It, too, is kept up through donations. The memorial service there is in the fall.

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