(05/26/2019)
By Sidney Underwood 2018

In the early 1950's when I was a little boy, I remember traveling with my parents and grandparents to the West Union Masonic Cemetery on what my family referred to as "Decoration Day." We would take Granddad's old 1936 Dodge filled with flags and live flowers to the cemetery which was located north of West Union on Rt#18. My dad would drive and granddad would sit beside him. My grandmother, mother and I always rode in the back seat. I remember It was always quiet and subdued when we started our journey.

Upon reaching the cemetery, we would carry the flags and flowers where they would be placed correctly under the supervision of my grandmother. She was determined that loved ones not be forgotten.

In the mid 1940's granddad had purchased a section of the West Union Masonic Cemetery that was large enough to accommodate twelve graves. A large granite headstone with the name WILLIAMS was set there soon after the property was deeded. Like most burial grounds, the Masonic Cemetery is located on a relatively level plain and the entrance is through an archway. Once past the archway, the narrow road rises upward and the tombstones become visible stretching into the distance in perfect lines.

After parking the car and retrieving items from the trunk, we would silently walk to the Williams plot. When I think of those trips, there was always the scent of fresh mowed grass and the gentle caress of the wind. I remember I would stand quietly and listen to the conversations describing my uncle, James Williams, who was the only one buried there. I would nod my head that I understood, but after a time, become restless due to inactivity. Because I was so young, the significance of mortality was lost on me.

Uncle James had originally been buried in the Chestnut Grove Cemetery several miles away beside my Granddad's parents, but had been disinterred and placed in the Masonic plot as directed by granddad in the late 1940's. Granddad made that decision because he thought the Chestnut Grove Church and cemetery would someday be abandoned and he did not want vines and weeds growing over his son's grave.

It always made me sad to see my grandmother linger over the grave of her son. Uncle James had died of Leukemia at the age of 26 in 1940 in a Clarksburg hospital. A specialist from Johns-Hopkins in Baltimore had been summoned, but could not save him. Grandmother would wipe tears from her eyes and say that James had been denied the opportunity to live a full and rewarding life having left behind a young widow and one year old son.

My granddad was cut from a different cloth. He was stoic and always held his emotions in check. He came of age in the late 19th century and believed that a man should be strong enough to accept the blows of life without flinching. As he stood there looking down at his son's grave, he would say that James was a fine young man and he was proud to have been his father for those 26 years. There would be no tears shed. Years later when I was older, I realized that granddad stopped going to church after his son died.

I remember my mom would stand quietly lost in her own thoughts in remembrance of her younger brother. She would embrace her mother and hold her for several minutes without speaking. That always made me uncomfortable because I did not know what to do, so I always stood a respectful distance away. Looking back now, it was that short period of absolute silence and a shared feeling of loss that forever etched the memory of that place in my mind.

During those annual visits to the cemetery, my grandmother also placed flags on the graves of several young men of Nutters Fork Community who had died in combat during World War II. I recall their names: Cpl. Orval Leroy Griffin, his brother, Pfc. Darrel Glade Griffin and Pfc. Harley Roberts. Before the war, those young men had occasionally worked for granddad on the farm. My grandmother had cooked noon day meals for them and had watched them grow into manhood. She considered them almost as her own sons. I know this to be true because I saw her shed tears over their graves. She had great empathy for Mrs. Lula Griffin who had the misfortune of losing both her sons to the war effort. One as a tail gunner on a B-17, and the other as a rifleman in the infantry. Roberts' parents lived close by my grandparent's home and their son had died as a member of a tank crew.

The somber mood of our group would change when friends of the family would be seen tending to nearby plots. It was as if this day of tribute to those who had passed was also a day of reunion. There was shared solace in the fact that each family had known loss and that seemed to ease everyone's burden. Eventually, small groups would mingle among the tombstones and discussions of former times take place. Occasionally, laughter would be heard as someone recalled a humorous story of the past.

We would always note the approach of vehicles with out-of-state license plates. My dad and granddad would see those people exiting their cars. Dad would say aloud, "That fellow looks familiar." The individual in question would look in our direction, recognize my dad, wave and start walking toward us. He would call my dad by name and say that it had been a long time. They would shake hands and soon be talking of a time when they had been in high school together in the 1930's. Granddad would inquire about that man's parents and upon learning the name say that he had known them. He would say that they were, "Good People." In Doddridge County, the term, "Good People" was a high complement that meant the family had been well respected.

Eventually dad and his friend would talk about employment. Dad would learn that his friend had left West Virginia in the late 1940's after the war and migrated to Ohio to find work in Akron in the tire industry. In their discussions, dad would learn of other friends who had found work at Timken Roller Bearing in Canton, and still other acquaintances now employed in the auto industry working for General Motors in a new assembly plant at Parma, Ohio.

Naturally curious about dad's friend, I would actually listen to their conversations. That individual described life in Ohio during his early years there. He and several young men from Doddridge County roomed together in a rather run down old house sleeping on mattresses on floors and doing limited cooking eating mostly out of cans. He described with a laugh that they didn't exactly keep the place in order. The landlord constantly told them to be careful with cigarettes and not let the place burn down! He continued by saying that letters from back home were greatly appreciated, but always made them homesick. So every two weeks, after getting paid on Friday afternoons, they would pile into someone's old car and head back to West Virginia and Doddridge County. Some had girl friends back home while others simply wanted to return to the familiar surroundings of the hills of home.

Dad's friend described Sunday afternoons when he had to say goodbye to his parents and walk out of the hollow to the hard road to be picked up by that weekend's designated driver to go back to Akron. What made it especially sad for him, he said, was the fact that his old blue tick hound would wait with him at the side of the road. When the ride arrived, he would pat the dog on the head and tell him to go home. With unbelievable sad eyes, the old hound would slowly start back up the dirt road. He said that was harder for him than saying goodbye to his parents.

I remember dad's friend saying that he was moving back to Doddridge County when he retired. He and the wife who also was from the county had already made plans to fix up his old home place and spend their final years there. He said he couldn't bear the thought of selling the house that he was born in. When he died, he said, he wanted to be placed here in this cemetery near his parents.

Often I would be introduced to kids from out-of-state families on those "Decoration Days" of my youth. Being naturally standoffish as kids are, we would quietly watch each other for a time. Eventually we would start talking and find a shared interest in discussing comic books, movies and that new invention called television that I had heard so much about. I was surprised to learn that some of those Ohio kids already had TV's in their homes while all I had was an old floor model Philco radio!

Sometimes we children would drift away from our families and soon be running and playing hide and seek among the tombstones. That was usually short lived because some sharp eyed adult would see us and sternly order us to stop and return to our family groups.

On the trip home to my grandparents' house, I remember listening to the voices of everyone in the car. Unlike the quietness of the morning journey, the afternoon return was filled with conversations. There would be shared information about the people seen that day, who looked well and who had medical issues, who had grandchildren now, who had died out of state and where they had been buried and other news deemed pertinent.

When the talk turned to employment, granddad would shake his head and say that it was sad commentary that young men of the community had to leave West Virginia to find work. He stated that boys who worked on local farms were trained to work from sunup to sundown and would be good employees wherever they went. He wondered aloud if the out-of-state migration of young people would ever change. He was certain that it would not change in his lifetime.

Many years have passed since I was a child, but the annual trips on those "Decoration Day" still stand out in my mind. Our family plot is nearly full at this writing. In addition to my uncle James, the list includes the following: Johnson and Elsie {Harbert} Williams, Pauline {{Williams} Cutright, Wayne and Marguerite {Williams} Underwood, Hubert B. and Zelleth {Williams} Stephens and Melvin Haught, husband of my cousin Kay (Stephens) Haught.

This last May, I visited the family plot again. It had been a year since I was there. As I walked the familiar grounds of the Masonic Cemetery, I was again aware of the scent of fresh cut grass, I felt the gentle wind in my face and saw the tombstones stretching into the distance just as before. When I approached my loved ones, I saw the large Granite WILLIAMS stone standing unchanged amid the constant change of life. Pausing at each grave, in my mind's eye, I saw and remembered each family member and recalled how they had influenced my life. I am not embarrassed to say that I spoke to them and explained what had occurred in my life since their passing. I remember that I told my parents that they were grandparents who now have great grandchildren. I'm certain they heard my words.

I know now what I did not realize as a child those many years ago. Life is a continuous flow from one generation into the next. I believe that one must reach a certain age of maturity before that phenomenon is actually understood. Knowing that I will eventually follow my people when my time comes gives me comfort because I believe that I will someday see them again.


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