Lying next to ancestors after we die holds more meaning than I tend to think about.
Last summer I went back to my hometown, Hubbard, Iowa. I moved there at the age of 10 when my mom died, placed with an aunt and uncle who didn’t want me, but my grandmother wanted me close after she lost her daughter. She had that rule over our family – what she said was done. I have lots of stories to share about her but today I want to write about headstones and places of rest and their significance to us as the living who remain.
My first stop when I reached town was the graveyard. After all, it’s a daughter’s duty to visit her mother first, even if she is dead. I easily found the grave; the cemetery really isn’t that big. But it had grown by what seemed like what must have doubled the population since my mom had been buried, and there were many more gravestones than even the last time I had visited a few years ago.
Family reunions were a prime feature of my summers growing up in small town Iowa in the 1970s.
William Nelson Whitesell Family circa 1900
Family reunions were a prime feature of my summers growing up in small town Iowa in the 1970s. Each August there was always at least one branch of the family getting together. Along with the massive amounts of picnic food, there were tales of bootleggers and break ups, whisperings of the latest gossip, and sometimes special stories shared of a relative who had died that year.
As shown in the picture above, my ancestors had large families. Pictured above are my great-grandmother, Eva and her twin Effie and their 13 siblings that range across 31 years. In the center of the photo are her father and step-mother. When Eva and Effie were 7, their mother died and their father married his wife’s sister Carolyn and they continued to have children for a total of 18. Of those, 15 grew to adulthood and raised families. This was not uncommon in the area where I grew up, as my mother’s father also had 15 siblings. This made for very large reunions, even if it was simply the nuclear family.
Written as part of Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge. This week’s topic: Preservation
I’ve been spending some time reflecting this last month about what autumn was like growing up in the small town Iowa. Starting in late August the smells, colors and even what feels like the texture of the air start to dramatically change. Nights start to darken earlier and if you go out you’ll need that jacket. School and more importantly, football have started up and every Friday night you spend your time on the stands cheering for the local High School. Or you’re under the bleachers with your boyfriend who is most definitely NOT on the football team.. but I digress.
Every year, my step mother and her sisters-in-law worked together on a very large garden that lived in our backyard (since we had the most space). That garden produced enough for 3 large families with lots to spare. It meant we generally didn’t buy vegetables in the winter, but instead ate the canned and frozen ones that came from the ground we lived on. While of course we ate from it all summer too, the primary crops of corn, carrots, potatoes, peas, green beans and other things were grown to keep for the winter when there was no “fresh” produce in the local super market.