By Regena Handy
The graveyard sits atop a grassy knoll in Floyd County. It is my mother’s family cemetery and we are here by chance. A Sunday afternoon, we have been to church services here in the mountain and are winding our way home via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
As we pass Black Ridge Road, I am reminded of my maternal grandmother who grew up in this area. So I ask my mother, who is silently looking out the passenger window, if she would like to drive through the old neighborhood. She would love to, so we backtrack.
Driving slowly, I pull off the road several times to allow faster traffic to pass us. My mother points at a particular house and says a Pratt lived there and he ran a little store across the road. Was he a relative of yours, I ask her. Distant kin, she says.
Further down the road, she comments that a man named Roof lived there. I question the name, thinking I’ve misunderstood, but that is what she remembers her mother calling him. At the next house, she says, Mama’s cousin lived there. We visited one time. Do you remember? You were just a little girl.
Easing on along the road, she wonders who lived in that old house; she should know but can’t recall. We see homesteads that seem familiar to her and outbuildings fallen to ruins, forests overtaking former cornfields, or land cleared where there used to be standing timber.
We come upon the small wooden sign with black lettering hanging from a simple iron post. Pratt Cemetery. Shall we stop? I ask my mother, who nods that she would like to do so. I drive the car up through the little-used, though well-maintained roadway and park in the grass beside the fenced-in cemetery.
It is a pretty place, surrounded by smoky mountains, peaceful, quiet, no sounds other than those made by nature and the rare vehicle passing by. The cemetery is typical of small family graveyards seen in this area, burial grounds surrounded by white wooden posts connected by weather-rusted woven wire.
We swing open the metal gate and enter the freshly-mowed area. Three large pine trees, their boughs touching and intertwining, center the grounds. They look old, like they’ve been there watching, serving as sentinels over their charges, for a long time.
My high-heeled shoes sink into the soft earth so I kick them off and walk in my nylon hose. The ground is cool, even slightly damp on this late April day, but feels as delightful as in childhood when going barefoot in those first warm days of spring was a much anticipated ritual.
The wind is blowing, scurrying the white puffs of cloud across a pure blue sky. I have only been here a few times before but that’s what I remember. The wind, gentle and steady.
A small number of modern-type tombstones are scattered throughout the grounds. Several small slabs, probably limestone, moss covering wording once written there, are askew. A few rocks stuck upright in the ground mark older graves, no carving or words, just a reminder that someone’s loved one is buried here.
The oldest readable stone has a death date of 1889. The newest is a tiny grave only a couple of months old, toys surrounding the marker. The grave of a beloved child and grandchild of very distant cousins, a previous life taken far too soon.
We wander through the grounds and my mother notes generations of Pratt cousins. Then there under the pine trees we see the three graves we are searching for. Asa L. Pratt. My great-grandfather. What does the L. stand for? My mother can’t recall. I should know as I am into genealogy. Great-grandmother Frances B. Bryant. The middle initial is for Bryant, her maiden name. And Walker Pratt. My maternal grandmother’s younger brother.
I look at his stone again and realize that he was only 50 when he died. Three years younger than I am now. A heart attack, Mama thinks. He was a big man. All were gone before I was born but I can envision their photographs. Grandpa Asa with his long white beard, Grandma in an ankle-length print dress, and Walker, a big dark man in bibbed overalls.
I watch my mother as she continues to move along the stones, looking, remembering, and I wonder about her recollections of a time which I can never truly know.
The wind stirs my hair and I raise my face to the sky in appreciation of the serenity of this moment, an afternoon spent with my mother, a flash in time that won’t come again.
(A memory of my mother who died in 2010, written in April 2007.)