I passed by the cemetery without really looking. Something caught my eye and I turned my head back. The two oak trees at the corner of our family’s plot in Cottonwood had been cut down. Only the bare trunk of one tree, shorn of its limbs, remained.
I turned around and went back to this place that I have visited a hundred times since my youth. My great grandparents, my grandparents, and my father are all buried there. My mother’s name is already engraved on the stone where she will one day rest.
In my youth, this was one of the finest gardens in Cottonwood. My grandmother used her green thumb to make it a place of beauty and reflection. A bench was placed between the flowers where one could sit in the shade.
Daylilies, irises, azaleas and camellias all provided an ongoing showcase of nature’s beauty, tended with love and devotion by my grandmother. She was always grafting and cross pollinating the flowers to bring some new and unusual bloom to life.
It has been 34 years since the last member of my family actually lived in Cottonwood. Over time, it became too hard to tend to the garden at the cemetery. The flowers gave way to a crushed gravel covering, easier to keep but stark in color.
After everyone had moved away, we came back for funerals. First my grandmother, then in short order, my grandfather and father were laid to rest under the oak. We took comfort in the shade, and reminisced about the garden that was once there.
Not everyone liked the oaks. Their leaves made it even more difficult to keep the plots kept clean. Other families with loved ones under the oak moved away, with the closest descendant often three or four generations removed.
At some point, someone took a hatchet and cut the bark all the way around the oak, which almost always will kill a tree of that size. Lightning hit the other tree. They both survived, though they were never quite as healthy as before.
Over time, the leaves continued to fall on the granite covered plots. They would decay and provide soil for seeds to grow. Weeds flourished in the rocks despite the repeated efforts by my brother and me to keep the plot clean.
Nevertheless, we resisted the temptation to have the oaks taken down. The memory of their past beauty and the shade they provided just was too much of a hurdle to climb in making that decision.
Apparently the city, which maintains the cemetery, made the decision for us. There are no longer any limbs arching over the family plot. There is no longer any shade over the resting place of my loved ones.
However, I was so pleasantly surprised by what I saw. The plot was clean and crisp. The sun shone brightly against the monuments and the gravel covering. There were no weeds or unswept leaves or fallen branches. It was just as beautiful as the gardens of my youth.
We often focus on the story of the mighty oak that comes from the tiny acorn. Sometimes we forget that the forest must be cut to allow life to flourish. Where there was darkness, there is now light.
The souls of my ancestors rest in heaven and their spirits have guided me over my entire life. Somehow I could feel them letting me know how glad they were to finally have sunshine on their resting place. After all, their garden is in heaven.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]