Day decoration and unmaintained family cemeteries | Family


Memorial Day is a week from tomorrow. Although it is a national holiday meant to honor those who have given their lives serving in the U.S. military, for many of us it also signals the season of “Decoration Day. in many family and religious 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 cries of joy and came out to join him.

Aunt Florence and her husband Floyd Robinson are buried in a small cemetery nearby. But passing on the road, I would never know. As mom’s first cousin, Millard Ray Hall, wrote to her recently, “It’s like a desert. It looks like part of the woods.

Millard Ray, who once cleared the cemetery’s brush, tries to round up enough relatives to pay a man to clean it up again. He put $100 “into the hat”, as did two of my first cousins. Mom let a great-granddaughter of Aunt Florence know, and she also pledged her support.

Millard Ray calls it the Gilliam Cemetery. I found it listed as the Robinson Cemetery online. It is located on a hill behind where “Gilliam Square” used to be. It seems that the largest and most modern headstone is that of Aunt Florence and her husband Floyd (Robinson). I can see how either name could be derived.

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

To my knowledge, I have never visited the Gilliam/Robinson cemetery. I hope one day.

For Mom’s family, decorating (the “Day” is usually forgotten in conversation) primarily referred to marking the graves of family and other loved ones at Flower Gap Cemetery in Lee County. Flower Gap Early Baptist Church is across the road on another hill.

The 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 read the calendar and do my math right, it’s a week from today.

Today, my cousin Brenda Lawson Mays told me, 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. This 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 which may now lie outside the chain-link fence added years after her death.

Popie Null’s full sister, Aunt Jane Wallen Moore, is buried near her great-grandfather Richard. Mom is the namesake of Jane (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 request to honor her on decorating day.

What I call the Moore Cemetery is easy to get to and well maintained. We both miss the shade once provided by a now felled tree. When we last visited, the void caused by the rotting roots of the missing tree had moved the earth and toppled the headstone of Popie’s mother-in-law (I call her Second Nancy).

We didn’t know which of his direct descendants remained or how to let them know if they wanted 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, along with several of my aunts and uncles and other relatives. Grandmother Pearl died before I was born, so we have visited the cemetery regularly all my life.

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

Willis Cemetery at Kyle’s Ford, where many of Grandma Pearl’s family are buried, is also well maintained and we are grateful each time we visit. It too is supported by donations. The memorial service is there in the fall.

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