When the last strains of Taps blows away across the countryside, the homage to those who gave service and blood to our country should not die away with those stirring notes. When weeds and debris obscure the name and rank and service of those veterans who have died, it is a black mark upon us all. When the American flag begins to be hemmed in, not by guns and foes, but by briers and nettles and tall wild grasses, it is a travesty. What would it hurt us who are mobile to bend down and pull a few weeds away from a soldier’s grave as we walk through a cemetery? Or maybe even pick one to keep clean. And get a little exercise into the bargain.
My last post was about us Duncan cousins and our day out — ( Duncan Cousins’ Day Out – More Fun Than A Barrel of Monkeys ). That day, several of us visited Noble Hill Cemetery where many of the Duncans are buried. Some of our family’s soldiers are buried there, from the Civil War on up to the past century. We agreed we should come back and clean up some of their graves. Cousin Cindy, of course, was the catalyst for that movement, and we all agreed to a work day. However, Cindy and I got a head start, beginning with her waking me up from a sound sleep on the couch where I had crashed after Mike got a service call at 3-something-AM that morning. She kindly brought me a Jack’s biscuit I couldn’t eat because I’d already had one. Her heart’s always in the right place.
She had wrangled her husband Chris’s work truck away from him, plus over a thousand dollars worth of yard equipment and one pair of gloves, which she insisted I wear. Another piece of necessary equipment was a holstered pistol. We were going off onto back road territory and she made sure we would be ready for any mangy coyotes who might come sniffing around. I asked if she knew how to use it, and she told about herself and some friends shooting hickory nuts out of trees for target practice. A hickory nut ranges in size from a nickel tp a quarter.
She asked me if I could shoot, and I told her I’d never touched a weapon till I married Mike. They were farmers and his mother was a crack shot. Mike insisted I learn how to shoot, too. There were all kinds of belly-crawling snakes around that might need shooting if they trespassed with ill intentions. But when he got me out target practicing, I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and he couldn’t understand why I could never hit anywhere near what I was aiming at. Finally one day he asked me which eye I was sighting with. “Which eye?” I asked. “And what’s a sight?” (I knew absolutely nothing about guns).
Anyway, to make a long story longer, when we got my eye and my sights lined up correctly, I had no problem after that. One day, my brother Tim started showing off this new rifle he’d bought. He and Mike wanted to set up a real challenging target, so they piled up a mound of dirt and stuck a little birthday candle in it. They lit the candle and took turns trying to shoot out the flame without touching either the candle or the dirt. They both shot a few rounds before giving up. Then I asked if I could try. Mike and Tim grinned at each other and said sure. My bullet blew out the flame first try. Mike looked shocked. Tim looked skeptical. That was just pure luck, he said. When I got lucky three times in a row, Tim growled, “Who do you think you are, *&%#$@## Annie Oakley!” And stalked off mad as a hornet. Cindy and I looked at each other after we finished our High Noon tales and high-fived. Ain’t cousins grand?!!
When we got to the cemetery, Cindy immediately started revving up the weed eater, then kindly, but emphatically made it clear she would handle the motorized stuff. Okay. If Mike doesn’t trust me with anything mechanical, why should Cindy. So I got out the funky-looking sharp-edged hoe — hey, I don’t get into the technicalities — and started chopping the foliage that the weed-eater and lawn mower couldn’t get to, and pulling weeds off the grave itself. I had not done this kind of work in a long time. Remember. I don’t do heat. And for the past few years, I had not gotten into a kneeling position without having to be helped up. Ageing is SO demoralizing. So this was a special occasion. And I really really enjoyed it. Working with a relative and friend toward a common goal is exhilarating. You ought to try it sometimes. It’s life affirming.
Of course, we ran into problems from the get-go. We got an early start to beat the afternoon rain prediction. But that meant the grass was still wet with heavy dew. It clogged the equipment and Cindy kept having to restart. The air was humid and hot and I was soaked within five minutes. We weren’t there for any beauty contest, either. We were a mess. Me a little messier than Cindy, who can still look good in a baseball cap and no make-up. Did I mention she’s a lot younger than me? Okay. So gimme a break.
Of course I got a few fire ant bites and Cindy had to brush them off my clothes. Then Cindy dug down with her bare hands to pull out a deeply embedded root only to find a black widow spider hibernating underneath the stone. She smashed that little sucker with extreme prejudice. The only varmints we didn’t encounter that day were snakes, either crawling or on two legs.
We had intended to get started on the old part of the cemetery across the road where our Civil War great-great grandfather is buried, alongside our great-grandparents. But I started chopping weeds from a nearby grave and Cindy wanted to mow and weed-eat farther out from just our relatives. By this time the hot sun had gotten to me and I was breathing hard and beginning to get light-headed. I apologized to Cindy for wimping out on her, but I had to stop. I sat for a few minutes to get my breathing back to normal and set off with the camera to take some shots. It took Cindy another 30 minutes at least to finish up, with me on a guilt trip the whole time. But Cindy told me when she starts a job she’s hell-bent on getting it done. It was no reflection on me.
We agreed to skip the old cemetery and come back when we had more proper equipment for the rocky, hilly terrain. After stopping for sustenance — Duncan Donuts, of course, and a Payday, Ranch Doritos and a Mountain Dew — we went on to visit Papa and Granny Duncan’s grave at Red Hill Cemetery. I told Cindy if we kept cleaning up graves I could lose some weight. “Not with what we’re eating we won’t,” she declared. Shot my happy bubble then and there.
Papa and Granny are buried alongside their sons, W. C. and R. V. Duncan. (That’s all the names they had, by the way, just initials). While there, we found their graves guarded by the most beautiful, husky-mix dog I’d ever seen. He was so joyful and friendly Cindy and I romped and played and petted him half to death, and took pictures. He had a collar underneath that deep, luscious fur and looked healthy and well-fed. So he belonged to someone. He emitted happiness vibes so strongly that our own hearts were lifted way up high. I loved that dog. That cemetery was well-cared for.
So Cindy and I went looking for Uncle Andrew and Granny Annie Gillihan’s graves — another set of great-grandparents. We found that cemetery well-cared for too. It was very picturesque, which was a great change from how I’d seen it with my uncles, James and Dennis Duncan, many years ago.
Then we went looking for the old Gillihan homestead somewhere out in the wilds of Aurora. We finally found it, fenced and padlocked, but we certainly had some adventures along the way. First we thought we had found the road we wanted, but did not recognize any of the places along that route. We knew we were somewhere near, but just couldn’t quite make the right connection. We came to a nice brick house at the end of one road, and Cindy, who is bolder than me, stopped, went up to the porch, rang the doorbell several times and knocked. “Hope I don’t get shot,” she muttered as she headed for the back door which we could see from the open garage – which also had a car in it. In a minute she came hurrying back like she had the hounds of hell on her heels, only to hear someone call out from the back door. Cindy immediately started apologizing. She had pushed what she thought was the back doorbell, only to discover it closed the garage door. The woman — her name was Judy — laughed and said that happened quite often. When Cindy got into our reason for stopping, it turned out that Judy not only had known our grandfather Duncan, but went to school with our Aunt Fay. Small world.
We stayed and talked on the porch for an hour or more, and Judy showed us around the beautiful property, which was the old family farm. We called Fay and, of course, she remembered Judy. She especially remembered Judy’s mother, who was always so kind to her and the other Duncan children.
Judy rode with us to see the old Walker place, the farm Cindy and I remembered from our childhood and which figured in so many of our family pictures. It was gated and padlocked, too, so we didn’t get to go up to the old home place. But I did recognize the field Papa used to plow. To Judy I said, “Do you remember Papa plowing with two big white mules?” She smiled and said, “I certainly do.” That made me feel so good. Cause apparently I’m the only one who remembered. Papa would let me take them to the creek for water. And I felt so brave and adventurous.
We still got no further on finding the old Gillihan homestead, so we went road cruising again, stopping at an old country service garage hoping to find some older gent who would remember the Gillihans. They had died in 1968. Two of the mechanics came out to talk to us. Both could have auditioned for Duck Dynasty and the producers would have been glad to get them. One was called “Rabbit”, the other turned out to be my and Cindy’s second cousin (once removed), with just a plain old generic name — David. And, no, I’m not making this stuff up, Folks.
They gave us enough of the turn here’s, pass this church, and turn there’s, that we finally found the place — fenced and padlocked. Cindy walked up to the gate (we could see several new vehicles in the yard), and the old house was still standing. Cindy hailed the house, but no one stirred. I honked the horn and Cindy came up four feet off the ground and turned and glared. “You scared the crap outta me,” she said. “Sorreeee,” I said sheepishly. But even though the porch light was on and the cars in the yard, no one answered the hail or the horn. So Cindy took a cell phone picture through a small opening in the trees (dead batteries in my camera), and we headed home. That place looked a little ominous to us, anyway. Maybe they thought we were revenoooors.
But Cindy and I are going back to Noble Hill to clean up Henry Duncan’s grave, and those of his children, and probably some of the other Confederate soldiers’ graves. All soldiers deserve to be remembered and honored. And we will do that. This is the result of our first morning’s work at Noble Hill.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.
Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,