Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Masons and the Eastern Star

Among the many Rosenbalms buried at Zion United Methodist Church near Damascus, Virginia, are several markers with the Masonic emblem. I was immediately reminded of my grandmother Margaret Hopson Kitts' funeral, where two ladies from the Eastern Star recited some ritual and stuck carnations into the beautiful spray of roses on the casket, making the styrofoam floral base screech with each effort. At one point, a lady accidentally said something about "blessed immorality" instead of "blessed immortality," which turned my frustration into amusement. My grandmother would have found it funny!

I've often wondered how my Mamaw Kitts was tied to the Eastern Star, knowing that a woman can't join it without a male family member in the Masonic Lodge. Since she is a Rosenbalm descendant, it looks like it must have been in the family for a while. That would make another good research project!

Rosenbalms of Damascus

A few months ago, I stopped at Zion United Methodist Church near Damascus, Virginia, to locate Rosenbalm graves there. To my delight, a couple of ladies were in the church parking lot, so I just had to introduce myself and ask a few questions about the Rosenbalms. Fortunately for me, one of the ladies began to tell me about the old homeplace, which just happened to be over the hill from the church. Away we went!

She actually showed me two old houses, one of which has been identified as the oldest in the county, and possibly the oldest in the state. A descendant is about to combine the two old homes into a new one.

I love it when I'm blessed with a special encounter like that!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Decoration Day

Memorial Day makes me nostaligic for Decoration Day trips, when I visited various cemeteries as a child with my parents. Having allergies, I well remember riding in the car with jars and vases of wild rose cuttings, "pineys" (or peonies), mock orange, and baseball-sized snowball bush flower heads. But that was just the beginning.

Those days were times of reconnecting and reflecting as we walked among the headstones, careful not to step on graves. My aunts and uncles and cousins would be there, along with lots of folks I didn't know. However, we all shared ties to those buried beneath the dirt, those who had done the same thing in their lifetimes and had honored the memory of their loved ones.

The events I remember best are those at the Mize-Thomas Cemetery on Wilhite Creek, off Jones Cove Road in Sevier County, TN. I still thrill at the thought of all the mountain voices echoing off the surrounding hills, singing hymns of old. We'd have "dinner on the ground," and it was the equivalent of a family reunion, complete with stack cake. And always, ALWAYS, someone would eventually tell the story of the first burial in that graveyard.

In the above photo you can see just the edge of the stacked stones that still stand where a family traveling through by wagon left their little girl. The rocks were intended to not only mark the spot but to keep wild animals from digging it up as well. Nobody knows the name, but community members continue to leave flowers there each year.

I recently had the privilege of hearing the Jabbours share about their book detailing Decoration Day traditions, and I was fascinated by the many variations they discovered in their research. The days at each cemetery were special, and they were many, as we visited locations in Sevier, Knox, Union, and Grainger Counties.