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Posted: February 7, 2011 5:39 a.m.

Giddens: Grave concerns a lifetime interest

I spent part of the chilled, gloomy first day of February in an appropriate place, Oxford’s historic cemetery.

I was at the Oxford graveyeard for a work assignment, but it’s surprising that I haven’t visited sooner.

I love cemeteries.

I love exploring the funerary artwork, trying to decipher the images and symbols of Victorian-era graves, the old-fashioned camellias and plantings, the peace and tranquility of a graveyard. It’s a place to contemplate, to think.

There are mysteries to be found and unravel.

Does the epitaph match the personality of the deceased? Is the Bible verse an afterthought, or something profound?

What’s the story of the person bearing a different last name than everyone else in a family burial plot?

What’s the medical mystery behind a plot full of individuals whose dates of death fall so closely together? Typhus? Cholera? Yellow fever?

I sometimes feel I would have been better served if I was born at the turn of the previous century. Folks back then would hold picnics in cemeteries. Benches for them were utilitarian, not merely decorative.

Attribute my somewhat morbid fascination to growing up in a home that backed up to a cemetery.

My dad cut a hole in the fence to give us access to Laurel Hill cemetery in Thomasville, leading to one of the older portions of the graveyard. This area is the resting places of folks who breathed their last in the mid to late 1800s, and the markers range from the simple to the marvelously ornate.

It was our shortcut to school and our playground, too. We’d glide in the swings, craft roadways in the pebbles of the plots, place rose petals on angel’s feet in lieu of nail polish. A large field set aside for future use was where we flew kites, played football and dug forts.

Homegrown ghost stories were passed along by neighborhood kids.

One tale had it that the largest mausoleum in Laurel Hill contained a grand piano and was the final resting place of a little girl who would play her piano late at night or at the approach of a storm.

It was a tale first told me by my sister as she was walking me home from school one day, trying to scare me. She succeeded.

Wherever we’ve lived, the cemetery has been a point of call. Oconee Hills in Athens was one of my favorite places to study or just relax. On a trek to Long Island, a stop in a mariner’s graveyard was a must.

There’s history, relaxation, memories, but it’s also bittersweet.

I still make regular walks through Laurel Hill when I visit my mom. I’m of the age where I know a lot of the folks resting there, and my dad is out there, too.

I linger, speak softly, clean off any errant trash and arrange the flowers.

But a cemetery is also a celebration of life. Chimney swifts soar overhead, bluejays fuss nearby and there’s that extraordinary sense of serenity to be enjoyed.

Lives past and present intermingled, a comforting continuity to it all.

Tharon Giddens is editor of The Covington News. Reach him at (678) 750-5011 or at tgiddens@covnews.com.

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