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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Decoration Day

Lindsay Cemetery    Mike Maples photographer via Facebook

As long as I can remember, our family has loved a trip to the cemetery. Now, let me preface that with we do prefer to walk of our on accord instead of being carried.  Many a Sunday picnic in Greenbrier ended with a walk to one of the several cemeteries in that section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our elders rest in those hallowed grounds and the families of those scattered during the establishment of the Park in the mid 1920's continue to yearn for a connection to our roots.  I remember one summer evening in particular when I along with mom, my sister Marjorie, cousin Pat (yep the Pat of Old Diamond fame) and Aunt Hazel went to Friendship Cemetery right at dusk to decorate the grave for the upcoming Decoration Day. The cemetery is on the hill to the right of the bridge over the river to Ramsey Cascades.  My Aunt Margie Parton, who died when she was around 3 years old is buried there. She died of pneumonia as did many mountain children.  We had been in the cemetery only a few minutes when we heard the scream of what I have been told my whole life is a Panther.  Now, few things struck fear in our hearts more than the word Panther.  Dr. Wadley, our local dentist was neck at neck in the fear category in my 6 year old opinion.
  It was dusky dark, right at the time when long shadows and fading light play tricks with the eyes and mind. The adults tried to keep their cool but I was neither dumb nor deaf.  So mom and Hazel were herding us out of the cemetery when the scream rose again, this time closer. What happened next is a little hazy. I  remember the screaming . I'm not sure if it was all of us or the big cat. Maybe a combination of both. The yell of the cat came closer and I remember mom wailing  "Oh Lord, its in the trees".... at this point, I became boneless and just flopped over between the head stones. I knew good and well one of the four would carry me , thus increasing my chance of survival. Mom swooped in lifting me up in  full momma bear mode.  The cat came closer and I heard a branch in a tree break. It seemed like nightfall happened instantaneously. I buried my face in fear and bosoms and hung on for the ride of my life. Maybe next season Dollywood will have a new ride called "Panther Run". The worlds first roller coaster that travels through old cemeteries and moonshine still filled Hollows whilst a screaming  'Painter jumps through the pine branches above your head...hmm...now I want a funnel cake.
We ran for our lives toward Aunt Hazels Ford Fairlane  parked beside the trailhead at the river. Even though no one actually saw the Panther, we pretty much all agreed it was a close call that night in the cemetery.  Every time I go to the cemetery, I remember that Decoration Day and realize that rain, sleet ,snow or Panther cannot keep an Appalachian woman from going to visit a cemetery. 
I wish my biggest adversary was a Panther at this point in my life. But dealing with my chronic illness is somewhat the same as the big cat in the tree: scary, powerful and invisible.
Tomorrow is Decoration Day and for the first time I just simply cannot make it to decorate the graves. My sister is in a boot for a foot injury as well. We talked today about how bad we hated and resented this illness that has trapped us both.  I had hoped that today I could take the flowers to the cemeteries, but it is not to be. I have been in the Granny Bed all day and simply do not have the energy to make the trek. Most of our fathers side of the family are at Lindsay Cemetery and Huskey Cemetery. We try to every year keep the old mountain tradition of Decoration Day going, but I fear it is fading fast with many families.
Early in the spring, the women would start to make the crepe paper flowers that were placed on the graves in those day. Sometimes they were dipped in paraffin wax to hold up to the elements better.




Decoration Day was and is a major event in southern Appalachia. The Sunday begins with a church service and usually ends with a dinner on the ground and a singing. Many have the old whole note or Harp singers. Here is a video to Harp singing at Cades Cove:



 Before our grandfather died he told the family to make sure and put flowers on the little grave of dads little sister Opal who died in infancy. Pap always took Sweet Williams and Seven Sisters Roses.



There is no greater guilt than a mountain woman denied the ability to make it to Decoration Day.
My sister said that our earthly flowers would pale to those they are enjoying in Paradise. I'm sure that is true.
But the Good Lord willing, I will make it next year if that dang Panther don't get me....

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Wave Goodbye... a tribute post to Justin and Stephanie Shults and those who love them.


It still seems so surreal and unimaginable. Everyday we are flooded with images of violence and war torn areas worldwide, but we are once removed from it, or so we thought. Oh we shake our heads and think how terrible it is that radical Islam has killed yet another group of people. But we tend to forget as the pressing issues of our daily lives keep most of us in a whirlwind of activity and responsibilities. Those images soon fade, but not anymore. All of our lives in this small  Tennessee mountain community have changed with the senseless death of Justin and Stephanie Shults who died in the Brussels bombing. Justin grew up in Sevier County and attended Gatlinburg Pittman High School as did his parents Sheila Branam Shell and Jeff Shults.  My good friend Lisa that is Ethel to my Lucy is their first cousin. I am heart sick over their deaths, as are so many.

RANDY BRANAM
  My first boyfriend in high school was Sheilas brother Randy. We dated a couple of years but drifted apart as time passed. I became particularly close to their parents Bruce and Juanita during this time. Bruce was a police officer for the City of Gatlinburg. He was instrumental in helping me get my first job in my chosen profession.  They loved their kids and were very nice, down to earth people. Several years later Juanita was my first baby sitter for my daughter Courtney when she was very little and I started back to work.She would call her Corky and spoiled her as if she was her very own granddaughter. 

JUANITA AND BRUCE BRANAM
 Uncle Bruce was a basketball lover. You definitely wanted him on your side in the bleachers during the big game. He took the round ball serious.
I didn't see them much as the years went on and as most of us, our own lives took hold and we were busy with our families. They're a lot of people gone I wished I had spent more time with. This is a lesson that sadly is usually learned as the wisdom of age sets in.  All three have passed on now, as well as a second brother Mike.

I didn't know Justin personally, only through pictures and seeing his name associated with the local high school. From all accounts he was an exceptional young man with a loving spirit and a bright future. His wife Stephanie is from Kentucky and they met in college at Vanderbilt. We grieve her loss as well here in Sevier County and I pay my sincere condolences to the Moore family in Lexington.

JUSTIN SHULTS, SHEILA BRANAM SHELL AND STEPHANIE MOORE SHULTS

I can't imagine the grief and sorrow the families are enduring. It is my understanding the bodies are back on American soil and will be released soon. Under the worldwide media attention, I hope they can grieve and bury their children without added stress. Please keep them in your prayers and thoughts as they face the next step in this ruthless tragedy.


I can't seem to get the image of Stephanie's mother waving goodbye to them at the airport out of my mind and my heart. Apparently, it was at this moment that the lunatics detonated the bomb as she was turned back giving them a final wave.Mothers do that, especially Southern mothers. We follow our loved ones and kids to the car as their leaving and watch as they leave till they are no longer in sight.  Departing can become a lengthy process as we realize "oh, one more thing"..When I was a child everyone did this, you stood on the front porch and waved until the visitors, whether family or not was gone from view.  I hope that the last thing that Justin and Stephanie saw on this old earth was the waving hand of their smiling mother saying goodbye. I pray and believe that the angels who were dispatched to escort them, whisked their souls to the Heavens so quickly that they instantly raised their eyes to see their grandparents and loved ones waving Hello as Jesus welcomed them to their forever home.