The sky was brilliant blue. Not the sorta kinda blue that you see in a big city, but the blue of open spaces. Not a cloud in the sky. Not even the feathery trail of a jet five miles high hurrying people across the country.
I was in a place I’ve been many times. Off to the right were evaluated concrete slabs for “dinner on the ground” on fourth Sundays when people come to the Primitive Baptist church sitting 25 yards away. No doubt mama’s sister, Aunt Lela Mae, had plopped down a huge bowl of her chicken and dumplings on one of those slabs. After all, she was the best maker of chicken and dumplings in the whole universe.
And both of my grandmothers, the one we called “Big Mama” and the one who was just “Grandma” had set out bowls of butter beans or fresh creamed corn or fried okra.
A small sign on the fence told one and all that they could send donations to a McKenzie Post Office box to help with upkeep on the cemetery lying just beyond. From time to time I have chipped in.
Why shouldn’t I? Because here is the final resting place of many with whom I share DNA. All four of my grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins of all sorts. My Lee great grandfather, James Kenyard. (His father, James Madison, never came home from the Civil War and no one knows where he is buried. James Madison’s father, William Greenberry, is buried a few miles away at South Butler cemetery in McKenzie.)
I remember trips to this same spot as a boy. At that time many of the graves were simply mounds of earth. Some decorated with colored glass. Some with mussel shells that stood on towers of sand that were not eroded when July thunderstorms came along. One was fenced with a roof over it. Over time, the roof came down and the shells were replaced by granite, or sometimes concrete.
Unlatching the gate, I entered this sacred ground. There were daddy’s mother and father, one of his brothers and a sister who lived less than two months. There were mother’s parents, buried in the same plot as my grandfather’s twin brother and his wife. Uncle Earl Bennett who ran a grocery store in McKenzie and loved life. Great uncles and aunts whom I vaguely remember and second cousins.
An usually chill April wind came out of the west as I did what I always do–wish I knew more about my people. Oh how I would love to ask them questions today. About the times they lived in, about going to church and plowing a mule and surviving the Great Depression. Would love to swap stories with them.
Sure, I talked to my grand parents. But it was the talk of a child and the questions were about childhood things, not penetrating questions that help you to truly look into someone’s life and sometimes their soul.
The church and cemetery are on a spit of Covington County sandy soil, about a stone’s throw from the Butler County line to the north and maybe two miles to Conecuh County to the west. And as places go, most would consider it insignificant. But just as southerners cling to their sense of place, I cling to here and the memories it shared with me under a brilliant blue sky.