If you ever stop and read some classic literature, you realize just how hard it used to be to visit your grandparents.
Need I remind you that Little Red Riding Hood was only trying to get to granny’s house? “Over The River and Through The Wood” is an old Thanksgiving poem that says in the title how treacherous the journey to grandfather’s house can be.
Thanks to modern inventions like, you know, automobiles and bridges, getting to where nana lives is easier than ever.
Well, for the most part.
I went to visit my grandparents this weekend for the first time in forever recently. It was quite the trek. Once I got close to her road, I realized there was simply no driving it.
I parked my vehicle just off a nearby street that was meant to be used by modern vehicles. There’s no parking and it’s narrow, though, so I had to pull off into some grass on private property. Fortunately, my dad still owns land down here. The road was in no real condition to be walked, either. It used to be gravel, but now it’s mostly overgrown.
Trees line either side of the road, which used to belong to the county. Had I visited in winter (is that finally done yet?), I wouldn’t have had to deal with the itchy plants and the buzzing, biting insects. Yet I did. Had I visited not so short a time after a rain, my shoes wouldn’t have gotten waterlogged and caked in mud. Yet I did.
I didn’t get too far before I noticed something I had never seen before. A tall chain-link fence stood in the path, blocking the rest of the road. A little thing like trespassing wasn’t going to stop me from seeing my grandparents, though, so I climbed over some tree limbs to get around.
Now was the time to stop and appreciate where I was. It could have been a story book. A partially overgrown road surrounded on all sides by trees as far as your eyes can make out. An entire tapestry of greens and browns beautifully illuminated in sunlight, accompanied by the lively noises of an active forest community undisturbed by humanity.
A clearing opens up off the side of the path not too far along. Nature didn’t make this. Here is kept by man, nature kept at bay only by labor. Here there are fewer sounds. If you close your eyes, it’s almost quiet. Here’s where my grandparents live.
It seems even nature respects the dead.
I didn’t count, but there’s likely fewer than two dozen headstones in this graveyard. Only one is younger than my grandparents, who died in the late 1980s. My uncle, who died in 2003, is buried there.
Many of the markers are difficult to read. Some are nigh-impossible, the etchings eroded in a way only time can manage. This place has been in use for a few north Christian families since the mid-1800s. People buried here served in the Civil War. Its survival has been in question since my youth. My family has been privately financing its upkeep for some time. Without it, nature would reclaim what is its by right. It would be another lost graveyard full of forgotten souls.
I spent a few minutes with my grandparents that day, in quiet reflection. In reflecting on that, I’m just grateful I get that much. The state has long since formed a task force which concluded all the way back in 2001 that most small cemeteries like my grandparents’ have been abandoned. There are more than 2,000 cemeteries like it, and 95 percent of them, that task force wrote, have been ceded back to nature through our negligence. That number is misleading, because that was only the 2,000 some-odd cemeteries they could find.
Those lost remains were once people just like us. They lived, loved, and died on their land. Through no fault of their own, they’re forgotten, like they never existed at all. It’s a sad end.
There’s no easy solution, I wish I had even a difficult one. For now, I’m just glad I can visit my grandparents at all, and that’s this week’s small victory.
(JESSE JONES is the editor of The Eagle Post, a member of the New Era Media Group. Email email@example.com if you saw that plot twist coming.)