Sunday, August 13, 2006

El Cemetery of Suburbia

I went to a funeral last week for a great-aunt of mine. She was buried in a neat little family cemetery that now sits in the center of suburbia. I've seen this little cemetery many times on my way out to the "west" part of town (for the past thirty years or so, our city has grown westerly and what was not so long ago farmland or forest is now Walgreens and Sonics).

I knew that some of my relatives were buried here. One of my great-aunts is related by marriage to the family that owns the cemetery. It's a well kept cemetery, though there is nothing ornate about it. It's surrounded by a chainlink fence with a sign that fronts a now heavily traveled four-lane thoroughfare. Until recently the sign bore the family's name...maybe Hurricane Katrina changed it...the sign now reads "EL CEMETERY"...only the last two letters of the family name still stand. What is unique about this cemetery, besides that fact that I recognize so many of the names on the tombstones, is that it sits so squarely in the middle of progress. We had to park our cars in a Rite Aid parking lot next door, if that tells you anything. The sound of traffic zooming by drowned out the words being spoken of the dearly departed.

The cemetery is no bigger than an acre or two and is only half filled. My ninety-year-old great-aunt who was there to bury the little sister she had raised from childhood, walked with me to her husbands grave (she's been a widow for forty years) naming off all the ones she knew on the way. "Everybody here is related, except for a grave back there by the fence for an old man who had no where else to go". "There's Liggie and there's Bully, and that spot is for me" she said, pointing at the empty space next to her husband.

The family once owned all this land so far outside of town and they were plain old country folk, farmers and carpenters. Most of them still are plain old country folk, though not many farmers in the crowd. Mostly shrimpers, mechanics, heavy equipment operators...good old boys. They are a family of men without much book smarts but with a whole lot of physical strength and grit. The kind of men that build the suburbia surrounding this graveyard. The kind of men you want to fight your wars. Rednecks I suppose, though around here that title does not mean someone ignorant and stupid. It means someone hardworking and honorable...who happens to enjoy life on the weekends.

Until about fifteen years ago, an old church that the family had built stood next to the cemetery but it was torn down to make way for progress. Today I would guess at least 10,000 cars pass by this place every day going to and from work, many of them wondering why there is a cemetery sitting smack-dab in between a pharmacy and a fast food restaurant. I doubt many of those people know that the people buried in this simple little graveyard are the very souls who cultivated the land and built the roads they now live and work on.

I hate funerals but I did enjoy visiting this cemetery I have so often passed by but only once before, as a child, had visited. Knowing that some things stay the same even as the world changes around them is nice. I'm guessing that El Cemetery will be around for a long, long time.

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