9.18.2009,8:40 PM
Have Cup Will Travel: Part Two

Cemeteries -or graveyards, the term I grew up with- reside in that space between realism and relativism. Death is real -everything dies in one form or another: passes on, changes, what-ever-you-want-to-call-it. But several forms of reality surround death. It can be like a piece of furniture -it is there, it happens to everything, so it's real. Or it can be viewed relatively: taboo, sacred, morbid, violent, sadness, permanent, after-life, the undead, eternal sleep, etc, etc.

There's no denying -to the realist, or the relativist- that death is real. But it is also relative. It is physical as well as social. Because we bestow meaning upon it. And those meanings vary; all over the place.

When people hear that I like to visit cemeteries, I see, and hear, a wide variety of responses. "How morbid!", "Aren't you scared?", "Why on earth would you want to do that?", and "Boring." Well, I say "No" to three of those four. The fourth one, I try to explain that cemeteries are one of the best history books one can find. I get blank stares.

Those that are similarly afflicted with 'cemeteryitis' are familiar with what I mean. Allow me to describe the typical routine: look for the oldest looking headstones to start piecing the puzzle together. Note the grouping of families sharing the same last name, then the dates on the stones to discern the ages. One can almost piece together an abbreviated family history from this.

For example: Mr. and Mrs. Phipps lost three children, two which died at less than one year old and share a headstone. The next headstone I look for is the mother. Did she die in childbirth? (childbirth was probably the biggest killer of women before the mid-1900's) Notice that husband is 'G.K.' and mother/wife is 'Lula S.' That is the converse of another headstone (in another cemetery) denoting the interred as 'Mrs. S.' (in small letters), wife of C. W. Lumsden (in very large letters). What can we infer from the text on headstones?

Much. The prevalence of headstones with death dates in 1919 led me to suspect an epidemic. Sure enough, the Spanish influenza swept Texas, and all of the southwest as well as much of the world, in 1919. That was on the heels of dengue fever viruse and cholera in many Texas towns. The most susceptible population to any epidemic are children, especially infants, and the elderly.

If one is observant enough, you might notice that two headstones often accompany that of a man who lived a relatively long life (keep in mind that longevity then was shorter for men than it is now, whereas women outlived men by sometimes decades if they didn't die in childbirth) and bear the names of women and status, 'wife'. If a husband lost his wife to childbirth, and had surviving children, they remarried. Sometimes more than once. I recall seeing a husband with two wives lost to childbirth and a surviving wife (even outlived her husband), with six gravestones of children distributed amongst his three wives.

So, you see, headstones can reveal much about the past, even our past. Although we don't know the people who lived and died there, they lived at a time when our predecessors did: your parents, grandparents, great to-the-umteenth parents, etc. Although these people lived in a small community, many of them came from other places, and some of their descendants went to other places. (what about all those headstones that state their origins were in Tennessee?) It's really uncanny when you find a headstone with your name on it. But that's for later.

What I'm trying to portray is a demonstration of network: we're all connected somehow: the past, present and future. That Seven Degrees of Separation. History then is history now. Visiting and reading the history engraved in these headstone is getting to know the people that lived, worked, fought, played, and died there. It forms a community. These are the Ghosts, the voices of the past, their present, our future.

So, on with the Cup's story.


One place I had not yet experienced was Greenwood. All the times I've ridden or driven by signs on the highways with that arrow pointing somewhere after the name 'Greenwood', I decided I wanted to visit. And it only had one paved road. Now, that can't be a bad thing at all, can it?

After leaving Decatur, we found Old Greenwood Rd. And I smiled. It was gravel. This was to be the test ride on the DR350, the new old boy in the stable, the pony with long legs and lots of spirit.

I spent the first several miles feeling like I was on a first date: that awkward getting-to-know each other time, feeling what will work and what won't, testing the gravel (no waters there), gradually getting aggressive, backing off at unexpected responses. It was love at first ride.

I don't even recall the scenery we passed as we rode to Greenwood. I was 'busy'. In a good way. We were bonding, the DR and I. Then rounding a corner, the tall grass alongside the road opened up to an intersection of a paved road and two gravel roads, giant pecan trees that soothed us with immense shade, and a wood-faced store with a porch and three locals sitting on a bench.

I was immediately intrigued. Some places just pull you in and you have to stop. But we had a mission that prevented us from doing that. We rounded a turn, onto another gravel road, and headed south to meet up with the fourth member of our day ride: Don, on his DR650. We were about to turn into another corner and there was Don going the opposite way. A quick nod behind him meant we'll meet up at the Greenwood Cemetery, and he fell in behind us.

After the usually rider greetings, we ungeared and browsed the stones. Here was the typical scenario that can be seen in many around that time.

Most of the cemeteries in Texas, at least in this part of the state, oblige visitors with facilities, that old relic of the past: the outhouse. They vary from plain, as you see here, to colorful, as you will see later.

Of course, I tested this one out.

One oddity that intrigues me is the occasional (some cemeteries it is more than occasional) fence around one or more headstones.

I've pondered the possible reasons people erect these, and I can list them, but my ponderings may bore most readers. I don't think that there is one explanation. And if there is, I can bet there's a deeper myriad of thinking underneath it. Regardless, I'll spare readers here that part of the story.

Now, this was precious. It spoke much about who the person was and those that knew him.

The sun was high and the cool air of the morning gave way to the familiar heat. I took the opportunity to pull off the motocross mesh pants, the thin pants underneath and down to bike shorts. My usual riding gear for summer, even commuting. They got more dirty this weekend ride than they did all week in Tennessee.

Don decided to rest in the shade for a bit.

On the way back to the bikes, I noticed we were being watched and guarded.

I tried to take a photo of the DR on its first date. I quickly discovered that my new mesh dayglo jacket (the previous one was stolen) blinds my internal meter. So I learned how to fool the meter. And anyone that knows me, or rides with me, also knows that my bikes are holders. I hang everything on them. Why not?

At the question "Where to next?", there was no question about the answer: "Let's go back to the store in Greenwood!"

That was the beginning, the middle, and the end of our weekend. With riding and camping stories in between. Greenwood has become a favorite place on my list. And we are even invited to be in their parade!

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posted by Macrobe
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