By Delbert H. Rhodes
They blanket the landscapes as Gothic bastions to man and his world. Every community is blessed by wardrobes of fieldstone, brick, wood or clay. These great houses of God cry the call of the greater good, dedicating to life a wealth of promise and prayer. Each house no matter its religious practice has a story to tell, a tale unique to its place in time and history; and if it is a Christian denomination, doubtless, there resting to its rear or nestled near its side, one finds a neatly kept page of the past.
Stone yards for generations stand as silent representatives of communities and families. The beautiful artwork depicted by etchings, and superb calligraphy not to mention the handicraft of spires reaching towards the heavens and tombs grabbing the attentive eyes of a painter, is to be regarded, revered and respected. These stones are selected, cut and molded by the hands of Masters. They wonderfully display and adorn the artistry of an old world craft. None ever witnessing these could deny them the adoration provided to lesser the occasion.
On Holy Days, church bells summon worshipers to The Word. Inside, hearts, hands, and voices join in prayer reviving hope for all humankind. Outside in the near shadows distant hearts of them once sitting in the pews faintly provide spiritual tempos to melodies of the living. For in a time long ago they too lifted their hands, and hearts and eyes to the lord their God, sharing a love of family, community and country; a zealousness dwelling in the spirits of simple folk who understood the meaning of right and wrong of pity or piety and of course, purpose.
Yes, perhaps living in these yards of stone are merely memories of someone we once knew; however, stone yards are warm reminders of not only who we are, but also why we are here today. Each name borne by inscription bears ancestral connections to family, providing historic links to members gracing life “above ground.” To them at rest: we owe a love, (a) thanks, a constant memory, and a promise that the yards will always stand, always live and never leave the visual fields of bypassing travelers.
Long ago as a child, the writer feared these places. In his hometown stands a yard that quivered his young spine. Above the stones, ancient oaks kept vigil, their strange curving branches bearing a fruit of moss probably planted by the Reaper. The giant twisted limbs seemed as grotesque fingers of the dead, and summoning all daring to pass-by.
From late afternoon to sundown, and from somewhere unknown, Organ music spirited the yard; and to one so young, it was a horrible place, and to be avoided. The perspective of fear has long been replaced by one of favor, for without viewing a stone yard on the by-pass, the venture, and no matter its reason, loses its mystery, its majesty, its beauty.
In many places in the world such yards are elaborate, and in one such place, here in America, the dead are buried above ground. In New Orleans, Louisiana because of the low sea level, and the incoming tide, bodies have washed to the surface. In order to prevent these dishonorable displays the coffins of loved ones rest topside; catching early morning sunlight and the romancing late night moon.
Many years ago the writer had occasion to visit a beautiful yard in St. Thomas, V.I., it was a peaceful place and pleasant. A return trip occurred more than once before his departure. Locally, in upstate New York, such a place can be seen and visited in the Newburgh region, at the juncture of RT 9-W and RT 94. This yard, covering many acres, is painted with lavish stonework and floral displays befitting those at rest.
Venturing into the regions of New York City one observes expansive acres of stone yards. These follow the roadways, and their travelers bending and twisting along the way. The yards are quite lovely, boasting grave sites, tombs, and artifacts and just about anything thinkable to say, “I love and miss you.” Yes, these elaborate Iconic places are testament to times past, and present; and they stand as proof that man was here and has ancestrally carved a place into the fabric.
Wherever they are in the world, these sites are cultural relics, voices quietly speaking of ancient times, of eras that should never be forgotten, of a spirit touching the hearts, and minds of the young and emotionally solidifying the old. Somehow, the voices can be heard, if one takes time to listen. These CornerStones are proof that no matter how far the future, it is forever the past.Copyright © 2004 Delbert H. Rhodes