Written by J. Mitchell Brown
Photography by Donna Huffman
lot of people are going to think that I have gone completely off the reservation when I say this, but daring to hear the fallout, I will nonetheless declare:
Graveyards are a thing of beauty to me.
I guess the reason I’m wired that way is part genetics, part romanticism, part morbid curiosity, and part just plain cuckoo.
As a child, my grandfather, Papa, and I would weekly tend to my great-grandmother’s gravesite with fresh seasonal flowers, a bit of weeding, and just some general upkeep. It wasn’t a somber affair as much as it was just a weekly not-unpleasant task. I knew my great-grandmother, Fannah or Nannie to the family, so going to the church yard to keep her gravesite was more just an extension of going down to the family house and sweeping the front walk or sitting on the porch visiting, than it was sitting all teary-eyed around a tombstone lamenting our loss. Plus, it was a ticket for a mid-day trip off and away from the daily grind of the farm chores that, frankly, were less exciting than cleaning up around a graveyard.
Then there were the summer getaways to Edisto Beach. That same grandfather had a house on Edisto, and we would go and spend summer vacations looking for sharks teeth and playing in the surf. During the heat of the day, when it would be so hot you’d burn your feet on the beach sands, we would all scramble for the shower, get cleaned up, and roam around among the plantations and churches of Edisto. On more than one occasion we would tote along newsprint and black crayons and roam the mysterious graveyards scattered around Edisto and make rubbings of the names and dates found etched in the ancient headstones. We would challenge each other to find the earliest birth dates and death dates, or maybe familiar names. You’d think that it would be hard to drag a kid away from the rush and crash of waves and into a graveyard on a sunny summer day, but like I say, we must’ve been wired that way because I never remember complaining.
Then there’s the sad romance of a graveyard. Graveyards strike me as lonely fields yet full of hope as a phalanx of bodies, souls floating free, face east patiently awaiting the promise of coming glory. They’re tangible reminders of the laughs and loves and even tragedies that make each life unique, but oddly congruent, with the lives of every other being on the planet.
But then again, it could just be that I’m a little off. I mean, who else talks as such about a body’s final resting spot? There’s a beginning and an end to everything. I just think that the beauty of a thing for what it was can be just as compelling as the beauty of a thing for what it is.
Case in point: If you know me, or have ever read another one of my articles, chances are you know I have an odd propensity to personify dern near everything. I get it honest (from the very same Papa I probably get my graveyard fetish from). That’s why when we moved last year from Pinckney Colony to downtown, my wife asked me, with all seriousness, “What in the sandhill are you going to do with that crate full of busted up pots? Sure to....you’re not really putting those on the truck are you?”
I looked down at the bushel crate of fragments and shards of sundry broken terra-cotta and glazed pots that was in my arms. I looked at my darling, yet naïve and unknowing wife and said with a snort of disbelief, “Well...yeah. What did you think I was going to do with them? Throw them in the woods?”
“Mitch,” she sighed, the exasperation of having to explain such elementary things to a man of 32 years, “what else could you possibly do with them?”
“I’m making a pot-graveyard with them, Laurie,” I huffed, equally exasperated that my wife hadn’t already figured that out.
“Hells-bells,” I heard her mutter under her breath as she went back to doing something that made more sense.
And sure enough, after we had set up camp in our new home, I got down to the business of creating a graveyard for my pots. I had scores of pots of all sizes that had been broken through the years. I remember a particularly hard freeze that came along some time back that got the best of some of the pots, and they began to crack and crumble. I remember dropping a few here and there, or accidentally knocking them off a stand or a table. Every now and then I’d pick up a heavy wet plant and the bottom would just fall out of the pot out of sheer exhaustion. Interestingly enough, I didn’t really remember collecting all these pieces, and parts in a central location at the back of our lean-to until it was time for us to move. But when that time came, the idea for the graveyard struck me. So I loaded them up.
And then at our new place, I unloaded them, right at the corner of our downstairs front porch. It was an area of our front gardens that never really got incorporated in our landscaping plan, and looked sort of barren and bored without any plantings. So I set about arranging my broken pots here and there, filling in the previously empty area with the accoutrements of gardens that were no more. I laughed at myself at the amount of focus and energy it took to precisely place all the pot-parts in each particular location so as to make the graveyard look like it had just occurred on its own. I found a couple of virgin and unbroken little pots in with my other garden stuff and planted them with some sedum and placed them amongst the wreckage, adding a touch of life to the boneyard.
As I was tweaking my last pot, giving it that perfect “haphazard” angle, I saw Laurie coming around the front yard, bringing me a much anticipated rum and coke. I tensed a bit, waiting for the jokes to start, but then looked down at my little art project and just grinned like an idiot.
“Well...,” I gave her the opportunity to strike.
“Well,” she said. “I can’t believe these words are about to pass through my lips, but... it really looks good.”
I looked up at her, waiting for her to go “PSYCHE!” or something, but she never did. I looked back down at my little graveyard, and smiled again. I felt good. Those old broken-up parts were beautiful in their little land of the dead. Each one of them had a little story, and rather than that story just fading off into nothing, these little headstones were reminders of the lives that came before, and continue to serve as reminders that at the end of any natural life, there are promises of better things to come.