We buried Aunt Imo on the last day of August when Northwest Missouri was suffering through another year of drought. Grass had turned the color of dank wheat from the lack of water, and trees had begun to shed their prematurely-dying leaves. A cold front pushed through, leaving the day overcast, cool and breezy. It all tricked the mind into thinking fall had arrived, though blistering 100-degree weather had been the norm only weeks earlier. Showers would arrive the following day, bringing a little relief to the crusty ground, though too late to do much good for the crops. Rain was always a fickle visitor.
A small group gathered under the funeral home’s canvas tent as the preacher from First Baptist Church in St. Joe said a few last words over the casket. Uncle Donald and Aunt Eva were now the only surviving children of my great grandparents, Hadley and Sadie Brown. The family of eight was now down to two.
Aunt Imo had so disliked anyone knowing her age that it was not printed in her obituary. But her birth date had been chiseled on the headstone she shared with Aunt Geneve, her sister, who had died a few years earlier. It seemed funny that Aunt Imo had finally allowed her age on the one thing that would outlast everyone present.
After the graveside service, Robert made the long drive home to his family, including Zane Hadley and Sadie May, who were named to honor ancestors who died even before their father was born. The rest of the family— Aunt Imo’s cousins, nephews and nieces—would gather for lunch in Cameron, about thirty minutes south toward Kansas City. First, however, we lingered in the graveyard. It was a mile or so west of Jameson, surrounded by fields and pastures and across the road from the site of the old Grand River Baptist church, where the Brown family had worshipped nearly a century earlier. This ground was the Alpha and Omega of Hadley and Sadie’s family.
Lots of names on gravestones were recognizable, mentioned over meals at family reunions many years past. A few times, I could put a name to a face. Great, Great Aunt Scynthia’s grave was near the western edge of the cemetery; she had lived in an apartment in Columbia, and had cooked dinner for me a few times when I attended college there. Another great, great aunt, Mildred, was nearby, too. She had been full of energy even after a stroke left her bedridden.
Aunt Eva wanted to stroll a bit through the cemetery. Now in her 90s, she had recently moved into a nursing home with Uncle Clarence. She couldn’t maneuver the gravel drive through the cemetery by herself, so Carl, the son of her brother Gilbert, took one arm and I took the other. As we walked along the path, she mentioned people whom I had never known or did not remember, though the names were familiar:
Croy, MacNeely, Feurt… Aunt Eva smiled wanly at the markers, as if wondering how 90 years had passed so quickly.
As we crept along, the newest generation of nephews and nieces, including my daughters, ran from one end of the burial ground to the other. Living 600 miles apart, the cousins were thrilled to see each other. They didn’t mind that they played among the dead—their ancestors. I wondered if they would be drawn to visit this cemetery when they were older. Seeing Aunt Imo’s name, would they remember her face?
The kids spotted the grave of Aunt Sophie. “Look, Sophia,” they said. “There’s your name.” Sophia was impressed. The kids leaped over headstones, indifferent to the graves they walked over. Aunt Eva didn’t seem to mind either, and no one else mattered.
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