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Walking the Past with Daddy

Updated on October 17, 2012

Visiting Cemeteries

Daddy stands between the tombstones of two of his uncles.
Daddy stands between the tombstones of two of his uncles. | Source
Reading a tombstone.
Reading a tombstone. | Source
The tombstone, made by James L. Erwin, may be leaning but it is still standing in the family cemetery.
The tombstone, made by James L. Erwin, may be leaning but it is still standing in the family cemetery. | Source
My father, James L. Erwin, standing next to the grave marker he made for his father.
My father, James L. Erwin, standing next to the grave marker he made for his father. | Source
The author stands with her father next to her grandfather's tombstone in July 2010.
The author stands with her father next to her grandfather's tombstone in July 2010. | Source
Searching for a particular tombstone is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Searching for a particular tombstone is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack. | Source


When I was a little girl, Daddy and I used to drive to the doctor’s office every other Saturday morning to get our allergy shots. It was something I looked forward to – spending time with Daddy, without my brother or sister coming along. I would eagerly stick my little bicep into the nurse’s face, anxious to show Daddy how tough I was. Afterwards, I could usually talk him into a stop at Davis’s Bakery, under the guise of visiting with my Aunt Rhoda who was a waitress there. When we’d arrive I would run right to the bar and squirm up onto a red swivel-stool. Aunt Rhoda, her black hair up in a net and wearing a white uniform half covered with an apron, would come over with the coffee and pour a cup for Daddy. After asking me what I wanted to drink, and usually making the observation that Mom would probably prefer I have white milk, she would return with my usual order of hot chocolate with whipped cream. This was about the time I would start to eye the glass case full of colorful, creamy pastries. Seeing this, Daddy would tell me to go pick out the one I wanted. Aunt Rhoda would follow me to the case where I would most often choose a chocolate cupcake with the thickest amount of chocolate or white icing available. She would deliver it back to the countertop, where I would struggle up on my seat again, and enjoy my special treat of a cupcake breakfast with Daddy.


As I began to grow older, and neither my brother nor my sister seemed interested in accompanying Daddy on hunting trips, I was asked to join him. Decked out in camouflage, we would set out from the house in the pre-dawn hours to drive to farmlands a couple of hours away in the hopes of bringing home a groundhog, rabbit, quail, or some other creature that someone we knew would eat. We’d also do the farmer a favor and rid him of crows and fox. One day in particular, while on the edge of a cornfield, Daddy killed three fox, one of which was trying to sneak up on us until I spotted it. (I never did shoot at an animal myself, but I was fantastic with the clay pigeons that Daddy would launch for me.) On our return trips home we would stop at a little general store and Daddy would buy me a Chocola and some cheese-‘n-crackers, which I would enjoy while I listened to Daddy and the old men who always stood around on that old wood porch.


Now a grown woman, my trips with Daddy have become ever more profound. Since I have been researching both sides of my family tree for the last fifteen years, searching for answers to questions I’m just now asking, I have found myself time and time again visiting the cemeteries where my ancestors have been laid to rest. Daddy has joined me on several of those treks. Especially since my mother died six years ago, it has seemed more urgent that we take these leisurely walks through tombstones and grave markers, public cemeteries and family cemeteries alike. One of our first visits took us to Curry Cemetery on the side of the highway in Greensburg, Kentucky, a town where many of Daddy’s paternal relatives were born and raised. Guiding ourselves through the rows and columns of graves, we read the stones, finding the names of aunts and uncles we have heard of, and shared the stories that we knew about certain ones -- how many wives Zollie had (five) or what a good person Hallie must have been. That trip included a visit to the local library and a drive to the property where my great-uncle used to own a blacksmith shop. There we sat in my car in a drizzling rain and stared at the area where the shop once stood; Daddy pointing out where it must have been, while I nervously looked around hoping that the homeowners wouldn’t show up and wonder why we were parked in their driveway.


Another visit to a cemetery around the same time included my sister, Ellen. Daddy had wanted to visit the graves of his parents. Grandma, who had remarried after Grandpa died, was buried somewhat closer to Louisville in Lebanon National Cemetery with her second husband, a veteran. We took a day trip there and walked the pristine grounds to find where Grandma and Grandpa Zinnel had been laid to rest. Upon finding their stone we snapped pictures, and admired the countryside surroundings. Daddy, a veteran himself, seemed pleased at the way in which the graves were so well tended. I had to wonder, however if Daddy was wishing that his parents could have been buried together. Grandma had been gone for over thirty years, but I could sense a bit of sorrow from Daddy.


The last trip that Daddy and I took was an overnight one three years ago to finally visit Grandpa’s grave along the back roads of Woodbine, Kentucky. When Grandpa died in 1955 the family could not afford a headstone. Grandpa was buried in a family cemetery on property belonging to my Grandma’s relatives. Daddy went back in the ‘60s to place a headstone there that he had crafted himself. For years he worried that the stone had crumbled or fallen over, and he suspected that it needed to be replaced. I had no idea how to get there, and Daddy was concerned he would not be able to find it again. I contacted my cousin, Richard (someone that I hadn’t known existed until we found each other on Ancestry.com) who grew up there, and he made some calls to some friends. The property was no longer owned by my relatives, and the house had burned down years earlier, but Richard’s friends met us and let us follow them to the site. As we got out of the car and walked through the high weeds toward the stones, I felt a lump in my throat when I saw my father’s reaction to the headstone he had made all those years ago, slightly leaning, but standing solidly in the ground. He was astonished to say the least. I wasn’t. That stone was just like my father – strong and solid.


That day, at the graves of the grandfather and great-grandparents I never knew, I realized that this man, who I promised my mother I would take care of, continued to take care of his parents even decades after their deaths. In listening to his stories as they came back to him that day, I heard the voice of a young boy -- a young boy reminiscing, reaching, perhaps even searching.


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    • Donna Kay Bryan profile image
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      Donna Kay Bryan 5 years ago

      Kate, Thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right that we should take notice of our parents, and other older relatives before it is too late and those stories are forever lost to us. I am so thankful that I still have such a treasure in my life.

      Donna

    • Kate Mc Bride profile image

      Kate McBride 5 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      This is a lovely story about the importance of the past to your father. I think we should all take heed of the message here and take more notice of our parents and the stories they can tell us about our heritage.