Ashes to Ashes

Live Oak cemetery, Selma, Alabama, is made of the stuff that Hollywood is always trying to create. Ancient statuary amidst a sea of marble and granite headstones that sit quietly beneath massive Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss. Some of these trees have stood guard over Selma’s dead for nearly 200 years. This is where we sometimes go to visit family.

Live Oak sits along West Dallas Avenue, not far from the waters of the Alabama River. The locals distinguish between New Live Oak and Old Live Oak even though they sit on this earth right next to each other. To have three or four generations of your ancestors at rest beneath these Oaks is testimony to the fact that you are a true son or daughter of Selma.

Henry Rutledge (1805-1883) is buried here. He is only indirectly famous as a son of Selma due to the fact that both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, Rutledge and Middleton, were among the select few who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

In another corner of the cemetery lies Benjamín “Ben” Turner (1825-1894). Born a slave and self-educated, Mr. Turner became a member of the City Council in 1869 and later took his seat as the first African American to represent the State of Alabama in the US Congress in 1871.

It’s incredible what you can learn if you take time to read the grave markers and get to know your neighbors.

So, all of this talk about Live Oak Cemetery is the background to our family supper the other evening. Along with my wife and me, our son, our youngest daughter and her husband, and their daughter; we’re all sitting at the table. The last few crumbs of blueberry cobbler are being scooped up and washed down with sweet tea. We’re doing what families do best. Sitting around, pushed back from the table and bantering about life.

We we’re talking about the ancestral burial grounds with the same ease in which we would talk about vacation trips or what day Christmas is on this year. My kids have loved walking among the tombstones and asking questions about the relatives of our past. We have taught them to appreciate the maze of connections to the bones from whence we come on both sides of the family.

Then, out of the blue I threw out this question. “Where do you want to be buried?” It’s a fair question. Yet one that was met with shock and chuckles.

“What? Aren’t we a little young to be thinking about that right now?”

“Oh, goodness, I’m not sure I’m ready for this discussion.”

“I don’t know. How old were you when you decided where you wanted to be buried.?”

The truth is that I really never decided. It was kind of handed to me. For my 50th birthday, my Dad gave me a piece of paper with the rights to a place in the Berea Cemetery in Hampton. “There’s two spots left, and they’re yours.” It was just that simple. “Umm! Okay. Thanks, Dad, for the thoughtful birthday present.”

My son, who is single and unattached, said, “Just bury me in the back yard, I guess.” But that won’t work since our back yard is in the flood plain of Palmetto Creek. We’ve had 8 ft. of water in our back yard before. “Can’t do that. You’ll end up floating downstream, bobbing around Lake Lorraine.”

The question of a man’s final resting place has long been an important consideration. Even though the location is somewhat immaterial in the big picture, the idea of being close to home, or close to family, or close to some place of personal significance seems to matter to us.

My wife’s people are buried in Selma, both Old and New Live Oak. Even though she has connections to places like Mobile and Linden and Oklahoma, the graves in Selma are the ones that matter most. And the same thing goes for me. Berea Cemetery contains the remains of most of the Chappell’s I’ve ever known. Some are in McDonough. There’s a few scattered in smaller cemeteries around Henry County. But Great-Grandparents, Grand-parents, and Parents and a whole host of Uncles and Aunts and cousins are all right there, practically within hand shaking distance of one another.

My wife says that she’ll be buried right next to me, wherever that ends up being. But there’s one caveat. She wants her tombstone to read that she is from Selma. And she wants a marker with her name on it placed in the family plot back at Live Oak Cemetery. It should tell all who come to visit whom she married and where she’s actually buried. This, I think, is because she has spent countless hours researching our family ancestries, diving deep into sites like, Find A Grave, and she wants to make it clear to those who would come looking for her later.

I made a spur-of-the-moment suggestion. “Maybe we should buy our own family plot right here close to home.” I mean, how else are we going to keep the family together. “If we take the last two spots at Berea, what are y’all gonna do?” A man doesn’t want to leave his children without options. Besides, it would be one heck of a long funeral procession to get from here to Hampton. I’m pretty sure we would be on our own without a police escort.

My daughter pondered the idea. “Well, what would you do with your spots in Hampton?” Good question. “Maybe your Aunt Marian would want them.” I’ve never asked her where she plans to be laid to rest. That’s not a question you can just pop on somebody out of thin air. He’s from Buffalo. She’s from Hampton. They live in the Atlanta area.

Where does one go once it’s over?

It used to be that family plots were the norm. Nobody really questioned where they should be buried. The countryside is littered with little wrought-iron fences and gates. Unreadable headstones. No more than a dozen or two depressions in the ground. Some of them are right next to urban parking lots. Some are forgotten along overgrown country roadsides. But, now we are spread out all over the place.

So, I’m left wondering. Will it really matter where I’m buried? Maybe I should jump on the more recent trend of having my ashes flung to the wind in some spot near to my heart. Take me up in a plane and dump me over Georgia. Maybe the shrub bed right outside the Ole Times Country Buffet in Columbus. I like eating there. Or set me up on the mantle in an urn and let the kids decide who gets me when the estate is settled.

I always assumed that I would end up in Hampton. Born there. Buried there. Now, I’m not so sure. There are openings in the family plot at New Live Oak. I’ve got two spots in hand already at Berea Cemetery. Maybe I should shop around to expand my options. Get creative.

One thing for sure. I’ve gotta go somewhere.

4 thoughts on “Ashes to Ashes

  1. Interesting question? Do you want another option? Dee and I have signed up to donate our earthly body to Cleveland Clinic for medical students. After a year they give ashes back to children for disposition. Haven’t decided on markers???

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  2. One tidbit of data I learned from my ancestry search; the “Magnificent Seven” movie of my generation is not associated with the original “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries created around London during the early 1800’s to prevent plagues. Being buried in such a Magnificent named cemetery is not an option for us Americans.

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