Paying tribute to ancestors

Published 10:04 pm Monday, February 22, 2016

I went down to my Dad’s house in northeastern North Carolina Sunday for dinner (which technically were Saturday night’s leftovers) and to spend a couple of hours visiting.

Much to my surprise, he flipped off the Daytona 500 after half an hour, grabbed his truck keys and said we were going for ride.

And we rode down back country roads, in what seemed like giant circles though Hertford and Northampton counties, past barely-standing shells of old houses, before Dad carefully turned on his turn signal and made a slow right — into a muddy, empty field. A little curious, I said nothing as we drove another quarter mile across the field until we reached his destination: a family cemetery, surrounded by a chain-link fence sitting in the middle of the field.

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From his perch outside the fence, he carefully pointed out headstones of his great-grandparents, a few of their siblings and other family members whose descendants I vaguely recalled from long-ago family reunions.

Since I could never find my way to this field again, I photographed each of the dozen of so cemetery plots in that fenced off section of the field.

I straightened two tiny American flags propped in front of a mossy marker shared by two brothers and World War I soldiers who died within days of one another: Godwin Bracy was 29 when he died in France in September 1919; his brother, Harvie Bracy, died from an illness while at camp, though I couldn’t read his exact date of birth. I can’t imagine the depth of loss this family – my family – must have felt, losing two children on opposite sides of the world at the same time.

The only one of his brothers that still lives in his hometown, my Dad, for years, has gone out every couple of weeks to cut the grass and trim the weeds. Every year or so, he cleans off the headstones so the engraving — which on a couple of stones, looks more like crooked handwriting in cement — will be readable. Around Memorial Day, he usually replaces the flags and may put out bouquets of flowers.

I don’t know what the next generation will hold — or who will be around to see make sure that someone tends to the monuments and memories of my ancestors.

But for as long as I can, I intend to try to find that empty field — thanks goodness for GPS coordinates — to pay my respects to those who long ago shaped the fabric of my family.