My daily snapshot of Robert’s and my 2023 trip to get away from Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and celebrations.
We started off the day in the cabin with beyond-delicious molten center brownies we had gotten in Savannah at our new favorite bakery, Sweet Patricias.
Bloated, we headed about an hour away to my small hometown of Ball Ground and the town cemetery where my parents are buried.
For as long as I can remember, having been taught by my folks, I have enjoyed “decorating the graves” of family members. Each changing season and holiday would find us heading to the various cemeteries and graveyards, spending time reminiscing and laughing at wonderful memories.
After a great lunch at a local meat and three, Robert and I spent a little while at Ball Ground’s small but beautiful botanical garden.
Here’s a bench in honor of my dad.
On the way back to our state park cabin, we stopped by the Georgia National Cemetery. I guess today we were thinking about those who have gone before us.
We left in great admiration and respect for our military service men and women.
Back at Red Top Mountain, HR grilled hotdogs, then we rested by the fire.
This morning HR and I drove up from Savannah to my tiny north Georgia hometown of Ball Ground. Why? To “decorate” the Saye family plot in the old Ball Ground City Cemetery.
I’m trying to follow in the tradition of my parents and grandparents by regularly visiting family gravesites laden with seasonally appropriate flowers. (The pandemic slowed down that ritual.)
But it’s about so much more than flowers. The soul—and souls—of yesteryear make their presence known in cemeteries. And to me there is such joy in walking and sitting among the graves and remembering the lives of my loved ones. Feeling the peace of the place.
Even sensing the sacredness of the dirt.
Let me introduce you to a few of the ones I had a little sit-down with.
My father and mother, Harold (“Tub”) and Geneva, married 71 years …
I wished my mother the Happiest of Mother’s Days! And she told me she loves the new flowers.
My brother Jimmy who only lived a week …
I wonder if the fullness of life might perhaps best not be measured by longevity alone.
My great-grandfather J.P.. (Ball Ground’s first doctor) and his wife Angie …
My younger brother Danny, who died the same day as my mother back in 2016 …
My paternal grandparents, Dollie and Maynard …
Then walking through flowers to the other side of the cemetery to reach my maternal grandparents, Dora and Veto …
Veto was actually Granny’s second husband. Her first died in his twenties in a railroad accident.
Veto used to tell the same joke every time we were riding together past a graveyard: “You know how many people are buried in there?” Someone had to answer, “No.” Then he’d give a big belly laugh and reply, “Ever one of ‘em!”
Robert and I threw the old faded flowers away and walked back to the car, pleased with the decorating. I looked back to the plots and smiled when I heard them, all my family in unison, thank me for coming.
I spent an incredibly warm but wonderfully interesting couple of hours this afternoon at the historically magnificent Bonaventure Cemetery here in my beautiful Savannah. The day might have been heavy and muggy, but my time there was anything but–cooler than Leopold’s! It seems that every second Sunday the Bonaventure Historical Society offers free guided tours of the cemetery, so I showed up thirty minutes early with a big water bottle and wearing my thinnest t-shirt.
Before leaving my air conditioning, I checked out the cemetery’s website and learned that …
Though not Savannah’s oldest cemetery, Bonaventure is certainly its most famous and hauntingly beautiful. Quintessentially Southern Gothic, it has captured the imaginations of writers, poets, naturalists, photographers and filmmakers for more than 150 years. Part natural cathedral, part sculptural garden, Bonaventure transcends time.
Military generals, poet Conrad Aiken, Academy Award-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer and Georgia’s first governor Edward Telfair are among those buried at Bonaventure. The approximately 100-acre cemetery is also historically significant as a reflection of changing views on death and dying in the Victorian era. As death became more romanticized and ritualized during this period, cemeteries became lush, beautiful “cities of the dead.”
Another reason behind Bonaventure’s popularity is John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which featured a cover photo of the now-famous “Bird Girl” statue, formerly located in Bonaventure. The statue has since been moved to the Telfair Museum of Art, founded through the bequest of Mary Telfair, also buried at Bonaventure.
Our tour guide, the vivacious Ms. Elizabeth Ford …
… oozed Southern hospitality and a spoke a delicious Southern dialect. (After the tour, I wanted to go home with her just to hear her talk some more. But I didn’t really know how to ask.)
Elizabeth led us around the hauntingly beautiful Gothic graveyard, along the banks of the lazy Wilmington River, regaling us with stories of the history of the place and showing us gravesites of some of the more prominent folks buried there. But what I loved most of all was the simple interplay of a deeply Southern voice leading me, slowly, on Sunday afternoon time, through such beauty.
(In the above pic, I was aiming for a cemetery facial expression. Did I get anywhere close?)
(I wish I had a ponytail like that guy to my left.)
My parents taught me to love cemeteries. As friendly places, reservoirs of wonderful memories. To this day, when I return home to visit them, we usually end up at one of several cemeteries in or around my hometown of Ball Ground, Georgia, where close relatives are buried. Granny Nix and Veto. Mama and Papa Saye. My brother Jimmy who lived only one week. Old Doc Saye, Ball Ground’s first doctor. Pulling weeds around a headstone, or straightening flower arrangements, we get caught up in “Remember when’s” and “She was a pistol!” and “I still miss him so much.” They taught me that I am standing tall today because of all of them who came before.