I am in the car with my husband and two stepchildren, driving on Hwy 64 from Greenville to Rocky Mount. I look out the window at the windswept and lush eastern North Carolina landscape rushing by. The land is flat and dotted with family farms. There are clusters of trees and I see the budding of plants, especially tobacco and cotton in multiple rows, mounds that ripple throughout the landscape and that seem to go on forever. Old farmhouses stand between large oak and maple trees, some houses have long been abandoned. What became of the families that once lived there? What were their lives like?
This is a haunted landscape. Maybe the reason I feel this way is because throughout this remote farmland are small cemeteries right in the middle of cotton, corn, soybeans and tobacco fields. Usually these weathered family graveyards are surrounded with a fence, sometimes made of wood, sometimes metal. What a statement- to be buried in the midst of the very thing that provided your family with a way of life. Our identity is wrapped up in the land.
My trip on Hwy 64 and images of family cemeteries reminds me of a time when I was about 14 years old and growing up in Kentucky. One morning my dad’s friend, Jim Hill came to our house. My dad put on his jacket and work boots and headed out with Jim. I asked where they were going and he told me they were driving up the road between Krypton and Chavis to see the grave of a woman that lived over a hundred years ago. Jim had discovered it and he wanted to show my dad. A photograph of her was embedded on the worn gravestone. She died young. Jim thought she might be one of his long ago relatives. I wanted to go with them so badly, but knew this adventure was only for my dad and his friend.
I had always thought adventure, curiosity and a fascination with mystery was reserved for children, but realized that day that nothing could be farther from the truth as I watched these two middle age men walk out the door to go see the grave of a woman who died a long time ago and who was buried on a hill in Kentucky.