After serving with the 101st Airborne Division (paratroopers) during the Vietnam era, I returned to civilian life in serious need of direction. I visited my mother’s grave, knowing she was an expert at that sort of thing. She died of cancer when I was but six years of age. After pouring my guts out to her, I made a promise: I would not return to her grave until I was a settled man, and I would never bring any woman to her grave unless that woman truly loved me.
Thirty years later my wife Joyce and I were discussing our burial plots over coffee at the kitchen counter when my mother’s grave came up out of nowhere.
“Joyce,” I said, “I wouldn’t feel right having a stone placed at my grave when my mother does not have one.”
In 1951 when she passed away, the family couldn’t afford a stone. We were sharecroppers who lived from day to day.
“You’re telling me your mother’s grave isn’t marked,” Joyce said.
“No,” I said sadly.
“Well, go have one made and we’ll go up to Georgia and place it at her head.”
Two months later we were on the road headed for the tall pines of central Georgia to a small town called Swainsboro, with the stone tightly secured in the bed of our pickup.
Joyce had asked me earlier, “Ray, do you think you can go back to the grave?”
“Sure,” I said confidently.
When we approached the approximate area of the cemetery, I began to realize I was extremely disoriented because of all the new paved roads and new homes everywhere. “Joyce,” I said, “none of this looks familiar to me today.”
She smiled at me. “I’ll get us there. Turn left just ahead onto that dirt road.”
I followed her directions, thinking, What’s with her? She’s never been to central Georgia, much less to an unknown grave site. Maybe she just wants to leave the pavement for a while as we have been traveling for seven hours.
After about five minutes on a winding dirt road we came upon an old cemetery. “Stop,” she said.
“Joyce, this isn’t it. We’ll go on down the road because this cemetery doesn’t even resemble anything I remember.”
This cemetery was much larger and had an orchard of pecan trees surrounding it. I did not realize it then, but those trees were planted in 1952, shortly after mother was put to rest.
“Ray, get out and go say hello to your mother,” Joyce said.
To keep the peace, I pulled over next to the cemetery’s old double gates, got out, and began what I felt was a hopeless search. I walked and looked; I read tombstones. I began to realize that this was the right cemetery, but where was she?
With my head hung low, I walked back to the gates, and Joyce joined me. “I can’t find her,” I said.
“Ray,” she said, pointing her finger, “your mother is right there.”
I looked at the grave, which was no more than 20 feet from us. To make sure it was hers, I called the Swainsboro courthouse and had it researched. Lo and behold, that was the only grave site in the entire cemetery not to have a name. It was listed as “Unknown.” It seems she was never put into the records in Swainsboro because she was brought there from Savannah, Georgia, where she died in 1951.
Today my mother has her stone, her name, and a clean grave. She also has a fine daughter-in-law.
I’ve asked my wife many times, “Joyce, how did you know not only how to get there, but where the old grave would be?”
“I just know,” she tells me with no other explanation.
I wonder what else that Mississippi, Louisiana, grandmother knows; she scares me!