OPINION COLUMNS

Coming home to a cemetery

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, June 9, 2018
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A question was asked in the newsroom recently about some items in Update.

“What’s a cemetery homecoming?”

If I’d been asked that question about 20 years ago, I couldn’t have given you an answer.

If you haven’t lived in a rural, unincorporated community, you might be unaware of this unique event.

Brian Knox

It wasn’t until I met my wife in college that I discovered what it means to be a part of a cemetery association and to attend the homecoming or annual meeting.

Amanda grew up in the small community of Shiloh a few miles east of Commerce in East Texas, and her family belonged to the Shiloh Cemetery Association. I think I may have attended my first homecoming even before we were married.

I quickly realized this is as much a celebration of the living as it is of the dead.

In the case of Shiloh, and I suspect many of the local cemetery homecomings, the event included a big pot luck meal.

“Always make a little more than what your own family will eat,” was one of the rules, Amanda told me, since it’s a communal meal.

The Shiloh Homecoming always takes place on the Sunday right before Memorial Day. In the days ahead of the homecoming, association members would make sure the graves of their loved ones were cleaned and decorated appropriately.

On homecoming day, maybe 100 or more people would gather under an open air tabernacle. In the center would be a row of tables, filled with food. A large metal tub filled with ice and cold drinks could usually be found nearby under the old tabernacle.

The dirt underneath seemed a perfect place for little ones to play.

Homecomings are in many ways a reunion. Not like a high school class reunion, but a reunion of people who you grew up with, families who have been connected for 100 years or more in some cases.

Over the years, I’d be introduced as Amanda Seigler’s husband, my wife using her maiden name she was known by in the community.

In later years, we introduced our two children to the community, which welcomed them with open arms.

Living in Decatur meant that sometimes, the homecoming might be the only chance Amanda would get to visit with members of the community where she grew up.

The association has put together extensive histories of the families that have lived there, many for multiple generations. Those who have gone before are not forgotten.

Watching the animated Disney movie “Coco” recently made me think back on those visits to Shiloh. If you haven’t seen it, the movie is set in Mexico during Day of the Dead, where people remember their families by placing their photos on a ritual alter called an ofrenda. Families also visit the graves of their loved ones, bringing their favorite foods and beverages and even decorating the graves with items that belonged to the deceased.

It served as a reminder that no matter what culture you associate with, the tradition of remembering those who have gone on before remains an important part of our lives.

And I think in a way it gives a measure of comfort to those who are now living that they’ll be remembered, too, after they are gone.

Until then, pass the potato salad and tell me how you’ve been.

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A couple of cemetery association homecomings/meetings will be held in Wise County this weekend.

The Garvin Cemetery Association’s annual meeting is 1 p.m. Sunday at the cemetery.

The Sweetwater Cemetery Homecoming is Sunday with preaching at 11, lunch at noon and a business meeting following the meal.

Brian Knox is the Messenger special projects manager.

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