Walking Outside the Lines

When I was a little girl, I sometimes went with my grandmother to the cemetery to tend to her husband’s grave.  I don’t even remember how we got there, for my grandmother never learned to drive a car.  She never needed to have a driver’s license in our little town.  She had two daughters and sons-in-laws and friends to attend to her, and if she really wanted to make a day trip to Miller’s Department Store on Gay Street in Knoxville, she just called Bud’s Taxi Service to take her to the bus station downtown.  We usually found out after she got home that she had been gone all day BY HERSELF.  Knoxville was the town she grew up in, but her oldest child, who just happened to be my mother, was distrustful of putting oneself into harm’s way, where some bad person could “knock a knot on your skull”.  Ah, the poet that was my mother.

But my mother and her unique turn of the phrase is not what I want to talk about today.  I’d like to talk about the carefulness of walking the line.

This particular line was the path that we would take in the graveyard.  My grandfather’s grave was at the end of a row of graves that had no access except at the opposite end which was by the central car path that bisected the cemetery.

I suppose that my mother drove us there, although I don’t remember that for sure, and I don’t remember her walking among the graves with us. 

Lenoir City Cemetery

My grandmother and I, and perhaps LilSis, would look for a pathway that led to my grandfather’s grave.  Our landmark was a water spigot, perhaps about where the line between sections 4 and 5 is.  I would then walk as instructed in a straight line to the end.  Another landmark was a large willow tree at the end of the row by my grandfather’s grave, though the tree is no longer there, and my grandmother would fuss that no cemetery caretaker had kept the long branches from the tree from hanging over her husband’s grave.  It was disrespectful, and once when I cut my path across a grave, not knowing that it was a grave, which meant that a person was buried there, she quickly corrected me.  I never made that mistake again. 

We only tended his grave and that of her mother, Henrietta “Etta” Collins Webb.  Henrietta was on the opposite side of the headstone, and I was shocked the first time I learned that my grandmother had a mother, for she seemed as old as time immemorial herself, the beginning of my world.

A few days ago I was back in my little town, and I went to the graveyard to find the headstone of Merah E. Yearout, who had served in the Union forces of the Civil War with my grandmother’s paternal father.  I stopped in at the monument office next door to the graveyard, not expecting to find another there, but, even though it was a Saturday, an older man was inside in the air-conditioning, protected from the July heat.  I told him my mission, and he seemed doubtful that he could find the man I sought, and he told me it would take a lot of research, since the man had died in 1934 and the location was not easily accessible in the records.  I told him not to bother, but he turned and pulled a three-ring binder from a shelf, flipped through the pages, then pulled another binder from the shelf.  He flipped to the back, and said, “Well, here he is, right here.”  He looked thoughtful, and asked me what I knew of the man, and I told him of his service in the war, and he said, “Was he a sharpshooter?” 

At no time had the man asked me my name, or asked me to sit down, for in this town, much is left unsaid that is already understood.  I sat down, and agreed that the man was a sharpshooter, which I had forgotten until reminded, and the man tipped his head to one side as if in disbelief, and said, “Are you serious?”

He then went on to tell me how this had jogged a memory of his from perhaps ten years back, a memory that he was surprised he remembered, and he told me of a man who had inquired of the same sharpshooter, and said that a movie was going to be made of the sharpshooter’s life.  Not long ago, a woman came by with a special marker for the grave, and she was the daughter of the first man who inquired about the sharpshooter.  The movie was never made, and her father had died, and the man in the office remembered that the man was from Knoxville.  I said, “Well, that was probably Dan Yearout, and he IS deceased.”  Funny how life strings us together. 

The man in the office said that he would show me where the grave was, but he would just point out where it was, for he couldn’t walk there, even though it was a short distance, because he had a “lung disease”.  I asked him his name, and told him mine, and I said that my parents were buried there, and pointed over towards their graves.  He said that he went to school with my BigSis, and that he knew my father, and that my father was a good man.  I agreed with him, and we parted ways, after he gave me directions to the headstone I sought.  “See that row of trees at the edge of the cemetery.  Start at this end, count down five trees to the end, then count back two, and the grave will be in the shade of that tree.”  We parted ways, and I headed to the graveyard. 

I counted down the row of five trees to the end, then back two, as instructed, and the grave I wanted was not there.  I went to the next tree, and tried again, and found nothing.  I knew I was going to have to photograph every stinkin’ headstone in the graveyard because I was unable to see anything outside the lines.  I’d never been anywhere else in this graveyard except my family’s graves, and I knew I’d never find it, so I decided to roam the graveyard, taking photos every so often to ground my senses. 

There’s an old section of the cemetery that heads down a steep hill.  At the bottom of the hill is some woods.  The gravestones face the woods, and the hill is so steep that I don’t know how anyone was properly buried there.  This section has many graves of the early settlers, but I didn’t know that until further research.  I knew that Merah E. Yearout was buried later than the folks in this section, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be there, but it seems like a good opportunity to photograph some of these early markers. 

Then I walked up and down the rows where I thought Merah’s grave would be, but could not find him.  I did find some families that I knew from my childhood church, and I took random photos.  I walked the entire territory of Section I, and never located his grave.  Later at home, I was looking at findagrave.com and saw that my grandmother’s mother-in-law was buried there.  I did not know that, and I never saw her grave in my life, for it was not one that we tended, and I suppose there is a story behind that, although I don’t know what it is.

I’m sure that I could not see these graves because my life has been compartmentalized, and I cannot see when I walk outside the lines. 


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4 Responses to “Walking Outside the Lines”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Very nice writing, Ruth.


  2. Becky Says:

    1. I agree with Sharon, very soothing writing style here. 2. I always thought Ev the Bard said “knock a knot on your head”, not “skull”, but either is whimsical/paranoid, so it’s all good. 3. My first thought was that I did not go with you and Grandma Packett on the cemetery trips, but on my second reading, the thought of the willow tree near our grandfather’s grave rings familiar, so maybe I did. 4. And now I know why my fourth grade teacher seemed old to me back in 1967, now that I’ve seen the year she was born!


    • ruthrawls Says:

      The music from TKAM is playing in my head during the reading of this.
      You’re right – it was “knock a knot on your head”.
      Some of Mom’s photos had a fellow in them named Quenelle, so I was interested in those graves. When I got home and was looking at the photos, I realized Mrs. Andre was none other than your 4th grade teacher.


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