Even though my father could have done any task quicker and easier without my little girl help, he always included me.
We did dishes together, we raked leaves together, we gathered vegetables from his large garden, we went to the post office and got the mail, went to the bank and went grocery shopping together.
But my least favorite together activity was cleaning up the cemetery. My father’s parents were buried in the graveyard of a little church way out in the country. There was no perpetual care in those days. Each family was responsible for cleaning up the gravesites.
Since many ancestors were buried there, the cleaning tasks lasted for hours. We pulled up weeds, raked, bagged, cleaned stones, and other assorted tasks.
In summer it was so outrageously hot we probably could have fried an egg on the tombstones.
There was a variety of insects, some big, some small. As sweat rolled down our faces, often gnats would stick to us.
Worst of all, there were rattlesnakes. My father grew up in the South Carolina low country, so they were no big deal to him. He got his hoe and unceremoniously dispatched them to where snakes go in their next life.
Only problem was that then we had to dispose of the dead snakes. We hiked into the nearby woods and laid them to rest there. I really did not want to be included in that part, but neither did I want to be left in the cemetery alone (especially with the thought the dead snake’s relatives might be gathering for the wake!😱).
When I confided to my father that I found the cemetery a bit spooky, he laughed. He said, “You don’t have to worry about any of these people. They won’t hurt you. They are at peace.”
When I looked doubtful, he said, “Here. I’ll show you. See that tombstone over there?”
I looked at the one he pointed to. Daddy said, “Now walk quietly over there and ask it what it wants.”
I almost jumped out of my skin at the thought of what my long dead ancestor might say. But Daddy said, “He will say, ‘Nothing at all.’ He is at peace. Go on. Try it. And be real quiet and listen.”
Still doubtful, I tip toed over and very gently knocked on the stone. I managed to squeak out, “What do you want?”
I heard nothing. My father said, “You are speaking too softly. You have to talk louder than that if anyone is going to hear you.”
I reluctantly tried again … and again … until I felt I had enough volume to raise half the dead in that cemetery. Still nothing.
My father was obviously stifling a laugh when he asked, “What did he say?”
I answered, “Nothing.”
Daddy said, “He said nothing … nothing at all?”
Suddenly it clicked. I had been taken in again by my father’s sense of humor and love of pranks.
He said, “I told you it would say nothing at all!”
My father’s pranks were never mean spirited. Almost all of them had a point about life.
Later we sat at the picnic tables near by the church and enjoyed cold water out of the thermos and ate the sandwiches my mother had packed for us.
Daddy said, “There are some things in life you should be afraid of. Those snakes will bite you and possibly kill you. And there are other things you should stay away from. They will be like snakes in your life. They will bite you. And even when you think you have killed them, they will be hard to bury.”
He continued, “But some things you do not have to fear. My mama and papa knew they were going to Heaven. They did not have to fear death. They are at peace. They need nothing at all right now.”
Daddy’s words echoed The Words of Jesus.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”