A caravan of some eight to 10 vehicles made its way from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, over the July 4th weekend, its occupants stopping first in Clarksville before traveling on to Christian County the next day.

"Pawpaw drew a (map) to get everybody there," observed Reagan Payne, who was one of 18 family members traveling the 152-mile journey to spend several hours cleaning up a family cemetery.

Payne's "Pawpaw," her 80-year-old grandfather Lawrence "Larry" Payne, of Cape Girardeau, said he was dismayed during a visit to the local area last fall to see the horrible conditions of the cemetery.

His family decided to do something about it.

So during the July 4th holiday when the Payne family traditionally gathers for a reunion, its members took a day and traveled to the area, arriving at the cemetery on July 6 ready to roll up their sleeves.

For an almost seven-hour stretch, they cut down trees, pulled out vines and brush, removed stumps and got rid of trash and beer cans.

"My kids and grandkids were absolutely amazing in the amount of work they accomplished," noted Larry Payne, whose youngest daughter Susan Payne Cook organized the clean-up effort at the cemetery.

Situated in the midst of the woods in the western portion of the county, the burial grounds provide shelter for 39 graves.

Most of the graves are from the early to the mid-1800s.

The earliest known birthdate listed among the tombstones is 1770, for a man born six years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, shared Larry Payne, marveling at the thought. Oliver B. McReynolds died in 1837.

Larry Payne's ancestor James McReynolds, who Payne said was "a Supreme Court justice in FDR's regime," set up a trust fund for construction of a wall that encloses the cemetery and for maintenance.

Payne's mother was born in the area in 1901 but is not buried in the cemetery, said Larry Payne, explaining his own roots in the community.

see cemetery/page a6

"It's a family history, basically," he said. "That was what piqued our interest in getting it back in decent condition."

Larry Payne said there are no family members in the immediate vicinity to maintain the cemetery now, although he has some cousins in neighboring communities that he plans to talk with about the next steps to take for the cemetery.

He'd like to have a conservator clean and restore the headstones.

"There's work that needs to be done in there," Larry Payne noted.

He said he and his family have gone back and forth on rare occasions through the years to visit the cemetery; Payne and his wife have moved a dozen times during their marriage, finally settling in Cape Girardeau.

"One of my children wanted to see it," Larry Payne noted of the cemetery in rural Christian County. "I took her to see it last November.

"When we got there, I was completely amazed at the horrible condition the cemetery was in," he continued.

Musing over the items his family cleaned up at the site during their recent visit, Larry Payne noted that he's concerned about vandalism, and he was reluctant to reveal the location of the cemetery.

His children and grandchildren took away a "pickup load of junk that people had dropped in there" Payne said of all the trash left behind.

Granddaughter Reagan, who lives in Washington, D.C., recalled the beer cans and abandoned trash they found in the graveyard.

She noted that the family brought a "powerful bushwhacker," cleared out the big grass and cut down four major trees in the cemetery. The family brought chainsaws, a lawnmower and grass clippers, and Reagan's grandfather "even rented a porta-potty for us," she said.

She noted that everyone worked so hard.

"Growing up, my dad and Pawpaw taught the value of hard work," Reagan said. "It was good to pay respects to our distant relatives.

"It was valuable to work hard with the family. Pawpaw taught us the value of hard work."

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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