My Grandmother was one of thirteen children. My Grandfather was one of five. My Mother was the baby of the family. Growing up in Mississippi in the fifties meant going to a lot of funerals. At New Hope Baptist Church on Hominy Ridge, church members dug the graves. Church members stayed behind and closed the grave after the service. It was an honor thing to help.
There were no fancy Kubotas, no John Deeres, no New Hollands. No diesel exhaust hanging in the air.
Two or three church members used well-worn shovels and a six-foot long measuring stick. Another mark in the middle said three feet.
When an aunt, uncle or cousin died, the men showed up. They dug the grave. Not a grave like we see today. Not a hole in the ground maybe four feet deep and jammed up next to another. Back then, the dead got a real grave, six feet deep and three feet wide. Had to use a ladder to get out. Square corners, flat and level at the bottom. Each pound of dirt removed with a shovel. Each shovel full of dirt carried a thought with it. Most of the time, the grave digger knew the dead he was burying.
Small country churches are like that.
I thought grave digging was a forgotten art. Man, machines, cost of labor, etc. Time is money.
In fact, they don’t even dig graves these days. They ‘open’ them and come back later to ‘close.’ They charge the family. A stranger with a backhoe. Done.
But, there’s a church in Copiah County and the lost art of grave digging continues.
When there’s a need, the church ladies go home, cook pecan pies, make banana pudding, and green bean casseroles. Someone brings macaroni and cheese. There’s a lot of fried chicken from KFC, the trend is for chicken tenders. Yes, and gallons of sweet tea.
The church men gather in the cemetery, mark off a plot and break out their shovels. Each man brings his own.
Two or three hours later, there’s a new grave, open and ready. The men are hot, sweaty and dirty. They have worked.
Someone goes back to his truck. He breaks out a bottle of Scotch. YES, Scotch whiskey in the cemetery.
It’s a ritual.
They pour the Scotch into the grave, making the sign of a cross. Once lengthwise and once across.
As the earth takes in the Scotch, they bow and say a prayer. Then the bottle is passed around. Each man taking a swig or two.
It’s a honor thing. A member, maybe a close friend has passed. There is a lot to remember.
After the service, the men and their shovels return. It only takes a few minutes to replace the dirt, covering the casket.
It’s like a lost art, something that should go on forever.
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