Epitaphs On Godís Green Acre

By Larry Troxel

Having left many years ago my childhood haven, a little sawmill town nestled in Southern Oregonís Cow Creek Valley, I sometimes travel the many miles back to visit Dad and Momís graves in the tiny cemetery as I did one recent bright and sunny spring Sunday morning.


On a gentle slope, the verdant meadow was surrounded by fir and pine with splashes of budding spring flowers.  Decorative trees with yellow, white and maroon blooms, planted generously throughout, hailed a new awakening of life.  A doe and two yearlings were pruning luscious vegetation in the far corner while playful gray squirrels were keeping a watchful eye. Adding to the serenity was the songs of the wrens, finches, and their feathered cousins.  The only other sound came from the faint high pitch of a distant sawmill, but its unimposing familiarity made it just a part of the atmosphere of the valley.  The early sunbeams angled through the trees upon the rich greenery, making the early morning dewy leaves and grass glisten.  Recent visitors had left hundreds of colorful flowers, artificial as they were, upon many of the manicured graves.  Cut or planted flowers were always at the mercy of the diet of the resident deer, but plastic and fabric bouquets withstood time and weather, and critters.  The scene really was fitting for a cemetery post card picture, if there is such a thing. 

The little cedar sapling near my parentsí grave had grown some, now casting a gentle shade yet allowing soft golden sunrays to fall upon their single headstone.  I strolled up the grassy knoll to their graves, then stood, reminisced and felt a nearness, yet I knew better.   There's something about cemeteries that can be cathartic and peace giving to the soul, if allowed.  And I did.

After my quiet time, a reflective heart and a few amens, I found myself browsing among the headstones and recognizing names carved on them, long forgotten.  Over there were both my favorite grade and high school teachers, who were quiet aged even when I was in their classes.  Going along, I saw dear old friends who had been stalwarts in our little town and in the small one room church so dear to Mom.  Further on I came upon the school janitor who always had a joke or a good word for us kids, then there were shopkeepers, coaches, soldiers, the mayor, the scout leader, a former neighbor, parents of some of my old school buddies and yes, even some of them.  They were about my age, way too young to be there already.  Beneath each stone was an interesting story worth knowing but no one to tell it.  

In my wanderings, I began to notice another thing.  Especially on the older headstones, some dating back a century or more, there were sentiments or epitaphs chiseled by stone artists, thoughtfully authored by family and friends.  Each were written to quietly pay tribute to some aspect of the dearly belovedís life, the emotions of being missed, tragedies, relationships, untimeliness of death, age, Jesus, and expressions of hope and assurance of the life hereafter.  For some reason the more expressive and elegant missives were found on the older stones whose beautiful granite had been impaired by time, erosion, and the patina of moss that crept across the fascia as if to hide the thoughts of those once remembered.  Could it be that our ancestors were better wordsmiths and more expressive than we?


Wives and husbands always wrote thoughtful things about each other.  It was common to see ones like A Good Wife and Mother At Rest, Beloved Wife and Mother, and My Beloved Wife, but there seemed to be fewer references to husbands and how beloved were they.  Maybe the husbands, on the whole, missed their wives more?  One couple must have gotten together and collaborated on their matching stones on which was written To Know Him Was To Love Him and To Know Her Was To Love Her, whereas another couple noted their eternal commitment to each other with Together Forever.  A wife wrote In Loving Memory Of A Truly Good Man whereas a grieving husband vowed:


If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane,

Iíd walk right up to heaven and bring you home again.


A few steps away, a husband lovingly remembered endearing virtues of his sweetheart and companion with:


Grace was in her steps,

Heaven in her eyes,

In every gesture,

Dignity and love.


While another captured the loving essence of his mate of 57 years, simply noting that She Walked In Beauty. 


Encroaching weeds and weatherworn stones seemed to betray the sentiments of Gone But Not Forgotten, Gone But Forever Be Remembered, Always In Our heart, and Loved and Remembered.  Or is it that there is really is no one around now that remembers him or her of long ago, which is likely the case?  With those that recently passed, equating memory of the deceased to the unkempt conditions of their graves may be a bit unfair.


Parents beautifully conveyed their love and sorrow over the untimely passing of their children.  One bereaved mother, mourning the loss of her teenaged daughter, pinned:


A precious one from us has gone,

A voice we loved is stilled,

A place is vacant in our home,

Which never can be filled.


Generations and time cannot dilute maternal love.  In 1888, another mother tenderly shared her heartache over the death of her two-month old son:


Asleep in Jesus far from thee,

Thy kindred and their graves may be,

But thine is still a blessed sleep,

From which none ever makes to weep.


How fitting it is that one of Godís simple and beautiful creations, the flower, is often compared to the beauty and innocence of an infant or child.  In 1902, a parental sentiment read Only A Little Bud To Blossom and Dwell In Heaven, in memory of their baby daughter.  In what must have been a long ago same-day tragedy, etched on the stones of three children of the same family, ages 10, 13 and 17 years, was Budded On Earth To Bloom In Heaven. 


A mother and fatherís reflections of unspoken sorrow for their children was on moss-covered stones in an older burial plot of tiny graves:


No pain, no grief, no anxious fear,

Can ever reach our beloved ones sleeping here.


One can only envision the story that brought the untimely end to the earthly sojourn of these young spirits. Suffering the heartbreaking loss of their five-year old daughter Billie Sue, her sorrowing parents asked that God Bless Our Little Girl. And imagine the tear-stained face of the young mother who in 1915, upon losing her six-year old daughter Bessie, whispered:


Just as the morning of her life was opening into day,

Her young and lovely spirit passed from earth and grief away.


And, there were the more simple succinct sentiments for children such as Our darling, Our Beloved Son, Love You Always Son, and Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me.


Beside the sweet spirits of children, mothers seemed to garner equal expressions of love from family members like Mother We Miss You and Forever In Our Hearts.  In 1909, the children remembered their dear mother and in unison wrote:


Heaven retaineth now our treasure,

Earth the lonely casket keeps,

And the sunbeams love to linger,

While our sainted mother sleeps.


Tributes to fathers were more forthright as some were memorialized with Beloved Father, In Memory Of Our Dad, and simply Rest In Peace.


Some script did not have familial feelings, but rather expressions attesting to the good character of the decedent, such as Friend To All.  On a distant grave, separated from all others, someone thoughtfully left: You Touched Everyoneís Heart, Live On In Us Who Love You Dearly.  Kind and Truly Gentleman adorned another stone while a nearby 92-year old gentleman received a meritorious tribute for his deeds and faith:


His toils are past,

His work is done,

He fought the fight,

The victory won.


Expressions of faith were prevalent as well. Full with the hope of things to come, one aged stone had:


At evening time it shall be light,

Whose feet have trodden the path to God,

Not lost but have gone before.


That, and Whom We Thought Dead Is Only Gone Before Us, suggests that mortal death is but a spiritual birth and that life abounds anew beyond the veil.  Etchings with other scriptural and spiritual overtones included He Leadeth Me Besides Still Waters, I Will Dwell In The House of the Lord Forever I Know That My Redeemer Liveth; Whosoever Liveth and Believeth In Me Shall Never Die (John 11:26), Thy Will Be Done, Asleep In Jesus and In Godís Care. 


Then I happened upon a stone in the upper corner of the cemetery that was of a distant cousin who had been a preacher in the 1930s in the hills of eastern Kentucky. On it was engraved Well Done Thy Good and Faithful Servant.  What a find!  I had been researching his genealogy after reading about him in my great grandfatherís 1934 diary and there he was, along with three of his sons.


While walking away that morning from Godís little green acre, I felt the warmth of the rising sun on my back and a supernal warmth filling my heart.   I somehow more clearly understood the universal anguish of the loss and separation from a loved one through the epitaphs I had read.  My visit taught that the real tragedy isnít in dying, but in a life that is neither missed nor mourned and even so, that earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.