Driving the back roads this time of year, I can’t help but note the decorated country cemeteries. It’s often a colorful scene--against the back drop of young crops you see the fresh-mown grass, newly placed plants and flowers, and the flags flying. Maybe it’s a testament to my age; perhaps in youth these scenes escape one.
I remember my grandmother tending our family’s plot at the Sodtown cemetery in Buffalo County, Nebraska. She’d trim the grass around the stones and arrange fresh flowers in a vase. To a kid, it just seemed she was skulking about a deserted patch of grass and forbidding tombstones.
A couple years ago, upon discovering the grave of my great-great grandfather in an old church cemetery near Sodtown (photo), I was struck by how many of the original grave stones had basically just vanished. But, it was moving to see that a local group was still taking care of the plot and the few remaining graves, despite the fact that the church had been moved to another site many years ago.
Roy Smith, who farms in Plattsmouth County, Nebraska, and serves as treasurer on a rural cemetery board, says that the current economic climate has made it more difficult for organizations to fund cemetery maintenance. Interest rates on CDs are too low to keep up with the costs necessary to take care of the property. The cemetery depends on the volunteer efforts of board members, including a retired farmer who does the mowing and snow removal. Donations help keep the board from having to dip into reserves for the time being.
But, many cemeteries in his half of the county (there are 22!) are abandoned or have no prospects for upkeep, Roy says. They have simply run out of time and money.
While pausing to recognize the war dead and the service of all veterans this weekend, it seems like it’s also a good time to acknowledge the people who quietly and resolutely maintain these bits of land that preserve the memories of our ancestors.
Do you have a memory or a photo of a local country cemetery?
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