Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Graveyard in the Snow

While this year's "White Christmas" was lingering, Sandy and I took a day to go graveyard exploring. Yes, I must be getting old ... I mean, in a "new place in my spiritual development" ... because searching for ancestors and learning their stories gives me a deep sense of context.

What is it about standing on this holy ground that I find so inspiring? It is not about dirt, stone, or bone. It is about story. It's not just their story, but my own story.

We went to Williams Cove near Winchester, Tennessee. Williams Cove is 900 acres that was deeded to my three-great grandfather, Col. Sherrod Williams, by Andrew Jackson for his service in the War of 1812. His grave, along with that of his wife Mary "Poly" Looney Williams, is near the end of Williams Cove Road. It is on the far left of property behind an old white house on the left of the road, just before the last big curve before the road ends at the side of a mountain. I am a descendant of one of their sons, Absolom, whose granddaughter, Louie Williams Hamby, was my grandmother.

I'm pictured here next to Sherrod's grave, with Poly's to my right. One of their sons' graves is leaning nearby. Sherrod was a Welshman and widower who married Poly Looney, the daughter of Michael Looney, a Revolutionary War soldier, and had 18 kids.

On that same road, Goshen Cumberland Presbyterian Church has a graveyard full of Williams and Looneys. Tromping through the snow at the final resting place of many cousins gave me a deep sense of my place on the earth. None of us exist alone. We may not know their names or faces or even their stories, but those who have gone before us are part of the fiber of who we are.

Sherrod's grave is topped with a lengthy eulogy, along with the complete text of the scripture that begins "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." Poly's grave has a finger pointing up. One expensive and the other simple, these are signs tell me of their faith. They tell me something about mine.

We ended the day swinging by Bridgeport, Alabama, to see the Mount Carmel cemetery where some of the Williams' and Arendale's in the generations between us were buried. The snow got cold and the cemetery is large, so I need to go back and find a couple more direct ancestors we didn't have time for. As dusk came, we dropped by the schoolhouse my grandmother taught in, just across from the entrance to Russell Cave. It was about dark when we got to the house just 1/2 mile past the cave entrance where another family graveyard is back in the woods. Another day. Another time.