The grown up version


I’ve got my theme

I knew it had to be a song.

I love singing. I grew up singing. And for a while now, I’ve wondered about the theme of my life. And of course, I knew it had to be a song.

So last night at church, we were singing an old hymn, and it hit me. When I was four years old, my papa taught me to sing, “The Old Rugged Cross” and an old Cathedrals song called “Hallelujah Square.” I distinctly remember being five years old and standing in front of a Ft. Jackson chapel singing to the soldiers who had gathered to hear my family and I sing. And I stood up by myself and sang while my mama played the piano, my Papa said, “Hallelujah. Bless her Jesus,” and my uncle played the guitar. It was the 1970s and my little sister and I wore matching long dresses with our long hair in barrettes.

Those two songs were never just songs to me. I understood that they spoke of the mystery of Heaven, and the promise that Jesus paid the price for our sins so we could live in Heaven someday. A place so wonderful that the lame walked, the blind could see and nobody ever cried again. A place so amazing that I need not fear death, because it could not touch me again in Heaven.

As I grew in my understanding, those songs meant more to me. But there’s just something about the practicality of living a life for Jesus that is picked up in “The Old Rugged Cross.”

  1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
    The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
    And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
    For a world of lost sinners was slain.

    • Refrain:
      So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
      Till my trophies at last I lay down;
      I will cling to the old rugged cross,
      And exchange it someday for a crown.
  2. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
  3. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see,
    For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me.
  4. To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
    Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
    Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
    Where His glory forever I’ll share.
  • written in 1913 by George Bennard, public domain

I understand this song. I live this song. I’m grateful for everything that this song talks about. It’s my theme.

Eventually, even graveyards die

My friends say I can sniff out an old graveyard. Whether a graveyard is hidden behind a storefront, on a dirt road or hidden in a grove of trees in the middle of town – it seems like I can happen upon it. To me, an old graveyard is like buried treasure. It tells a story of a time when someone lived there and was important to somebody.

This is what I’ve noticed. Even graveyards die eventually. The stones fall over (or they’re vandalized). Nature creeps in to reclaim the place where someone’s loved one was laid to rest. Here are some photos to prove my point:

A tree has just begun to creep over this stone at Bethel Presbyterian Cemetery, Walterboro, SC.

A tree has just begun to creep over this stone at Bethel Presbyterian Cemetery, Walterboro, SC.

A stone has already been claimed and framed by this tree at Prince George Winyah, Georgetown, SC.

3 A stone has already been claimed and framed by this tree at Prince George Winyah, Georgetown, SC.

It seems kind of fitting, doesn’t it? If you view death as a time of rest, then what better peace are you resting in when nature has hidden your very existence? It also means that after you’re dead, and you’re loved ones are dead; then there’s no one left to mourn you except people like me, who happen to be able to find hidden cemeteries.


Much has been written about headstone iconography. All the symbolism present in cemeteries would take many books to catalog. Yet it’s one of the first things I look for when I visit. Let’s explore some of the iconographic images I’ve seen.

I love this angel. It is handcarved into this stone.


When you see a lamb, it’s usually a small child’s grave. The lamb is a Christian symbol for a child.


The wreath is symbolic of victory over death. It comes from the fascination with Greek (as evidenced in the architecture of the stone). The Greeks awarded a laurel wreath to the winner of the race. 2 Timothy 4 in the Bible compares Christian death with the winning of race. Hence the symbolic comparison.


This stone contains a sword, captain’s sash and wreath tied with ribbon and adorned with leaves. This symbols represents a military veteran (sash and sword) and a Christian (wreath and leaves). Captains in the Confederate Army during the War of Northern Aggression wore sashes.


A cross (Christian symbol of salvation), a wreath and lilies all symbolize the victory over death for Christian believers. Lilies can also symbolize innocence and purity.


Two cherubs lean against a Greek styled altar with a large urn. An urn is always symbolic of the soul. ECJ in this case are the deceased initials. At other times, you may see the initials for organizations such as Knights of Columbus.


The weeping willow is symbolic of mourning in death. Notice that in this icon, there are two other graves underneath the tree. This could be symbolic of two loved ones previously passed, but I don’t know for sure. This would be a great example of a personal icon that meant something to the person who designed the stone and to the deceased.


This is a second example of a weeping willow, symbolizing mourning. However, this willow is in a Grecian urn. The urn symbolizes the soul. These Greek symbols are typical in graves from the 1700s and 1800s, which was marked by a fascination with Greek and Roman architecture and symbolism.

Cemetery photos 036

This cross embedded in a stone, the base of which is surrounded by three beautiful cherubs, is one of my favorites. This grave is for the small children of a couple. The cherubs are alternately praying, lounging lazily or picking flowers around the base of the cross. The base of the stone reads “These lovely flowers so young so fair called hence by early doom; Just came to earth to show how sweet flowers in heaven could bloom.” The flower theme continues just under the feet of the cherubs where writing “blooms” from a large petaled flower. A vine with flowers winds around the cross.

Cemetery photos 039

A pall partially covers an urn on top of an obelisk monument. The obelisk represented a person of great importance, such as family patriarch. It also symbolizes eternal life and regeneration. The urn with mourning crepe symbolizes mourning. In the Old South, when a person died, mourning crepe was spread everywhere – mirrors and clocks were covered, for instance.


The broken column symbolizes a life cut short, as in a person who died young.

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Another example of an obelisk covered with mourning crepe – all symbolizing eternal life in the midst of earthly death and mourning.

Elmwood Cemetery (9)

Before you say, “Another urn covered with mourning crepe,” let me draw your attention to the upside down torches on the four corners of this stone. The torch upright would symbol eternal life, but the torch inverted symbolizes a life cut short or the end of a family line.


This is a great example modern iconography. This stone marks the grave of the pastor of a church. An actual picture of the church is engraved on the stone (an obelisk). Also note the symbol for firefighters on the stone. This symbolizes the pastor’s other chosen vocation.


In yet another example of modern iconography, open gates in the center of the stone lead into Heaven. Praying hands symbolize Christian beliefs. The flowers on the female side of the stone, symbolize femininity, while the tractor on the male side symbolizes the male’s life work.

McClenanville Cemetery

These stones always fascinate me. I hesitate to call them iconography – it seems like sculpture would be better suited, but this is a symbol. Obviously, it symbolizes the grave of a small child. The child appears to simply be asleep, which symbolizes the words of Jesus in Matthew 9 and John 11, when Jesus refers to a young dead girl and to the dead Lazarus as sleepers.

pic 2

The two hands clasped in friendship symbolize the hand of God in the hand of the deceased. This is meant to symbolize that the person was a Christian who went to heaven at death.

pic 4

This hand, with the pointer finger extended upward, is symbolic of a person going to Heaven. There are clasped hands at the bottom of the stone.

Cemetery photos 077

Mourning crepe carved over the top of the stone. This looks so detailed, and always amazes me.

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This grave of a Confederate General is covered by an epaulette. This is symbolic of his station and rank in the military.

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The broken column and wreath here are symbolic of a life cut short, but someone who had a reputation as a Christian.


One of my favorites is this stone in the background, carved as a butterfly. In recent years, butterflies have come to represent eternal life and regeneration.


This stone shocked me at first glance. Here, the pointer finger is extended down and is holding a broken chain. After some digging, I learned that the chain symbolizes a life taken young. The finger of God is pointing down to Earth (not to Hell) to chose the person to come to Heaven.


The headstones I bought

A recent trip to a local cemetery for research reminded me of one of my favorite stories, although it is sad.

My wonderful grandmother had ten children. Two children did not make it to adulthood. The deaths of her children were tragic and she never got over them. But raising the other six took all the money available and my aunt and uncle’s graves never were marked with a headstone. Using my contacts in Elberton, Georgia (Tombstone Capital of the World), I was able to purchase two small footstone size markers for their graves.

When the markers were complete I traveled to Elberton to get them and bring them back. Back home in Elgin, my Dad and I asked grandmother if she wanted to go with us to place the stones. This is when I learned that visiting their graves had been something she could not bring herself to do for the years since their death. But for a grandchild, she would do anything.

Our first stop was the graveyard where her newborn son was buried. She entered the well kept little church yard and stopped. “I.. I… I don’t know where they put him,” she said. “I was sick and he was just a few hours old….”

What had I done?  I couldn’t even address her or the pain in her face at that moment. “Daddy, can we just set it down here?” I said, pointing to a spot near a fence. “I’m sure somebody will know where it goes. I’ll call some of the church people.” IMG_1994

Daddy undoubtedly felt as I did. “Yeah. Mama, would that be all right?”

She nodded. We set the stone down. I left a note on the parsonage door and we got into the car.

“Grandma, are you OK? Do you want to go home?”

“No, I want to do this,” she said quietly.

Just a minute down the road was the second graveyard, where her daughter was buried after a terrible accident. She was just a toddler when she was killed. Here, Grandma knew where her daughter was buried, but she was surprised to see that someone had placed some landscape coping around the grave and just generally made it as lovely as they could. We placed the first stone and walked away to give her a few minutes with the spot.

IMG_1980 “Daddy. I didn’t know….” I started.

“Hush. It’s good to do this. Give her a minute,” Daddy said.

A few minutes later, Daddy gently took her elbow, “Mama? You ready to go?” She nodded and he led her to the car.

In a few days, Grandma called me and thanked me for taking care of her babies. A few months later, she had the heart attack and subsequent stroke that killed her.

We gave her a beautiful stone.

Grandma's grave

Reading an “unreadable tombstone”

There is nothing more frustrating and intriguing than an “unreadable” tombstone. There are several ways I highlighted on a previous post to read a so-called “unreadable” tombstone.

The first thing I want to highlight is that tombstone rubbing – the process of taking a paper and crayon and rubbing it over the surface of the stone is an act of vandalism and as such, is extremely disrespectful. No tapophile, tombstone tourist or graving enthusiast would ever endorse such a practice. The vigorous rubbing across the surface of the stone can chop away the fragile surface. The pressure of this process onto the stone can also cause the stone to tip over, which can cause the stone to break. That also could result in personal injury. Here are some safer practices:

  1. Grind up chalk in a blender and with your hand (hand, I tell you!), rub it onto the stone. The words will jump out at you.
  2. Use cheap flour. Place it in your hand and RUB it GENTLY onto the stone. During of my boy’s school projects, it suddenly occurred to me that flour plus water (i.e. rain), equal GLUE.  Although this type of glue is very water soluble  – It may take several rains to wash this mixture off. Take a brush and water with you. Brush off all excess when you are done and then give it a good rinse before you leave. The next rain storm will take care of the rest. I checked with a chemistry teacher friend of mine who assures me that the flour and water mixture will not damage the stone, nor will it hold contaminants onto the stone long enough for damage to be done.
  3. Take aluminum foil, tear off a sheet and hold it onto the stone. With your finger or the eraser tip of a pencil, lightly press into the stone until the words pop out. This takes time, patience and foil is kind of expensive. But the results are cool looking.
  4. Use a mirror to reflect the image. I’ve seen a fellow tombstone tourist use a cheap, long mirror, place it in front of the stone and tip the mirror slightly until the words can be
    We were struck by the iconography here. Why was the hand pointed down? Was that a broken chain? But we couldn't read the writing.

    We were struck by the iconography here. Why was the hand pointed down? Was that a broken chain? But we couldn’t read the writing.

    read. This is best accomplished on a clo

    IMG_1432We use a super soft small brush (from the dollar store). The more we brush, the better the print shows up.

    udy day.


    These stones are under a lovely evergreen cedar tree. However, over time the sap runs down over the stone and the engraving (not as deep as today) is occluded.

    After the application of only a small amount of flour and with light brushing, you can see the writing more clearly.

    After the application of only a small amount of flour and with light brushing, you can see the writing more clearly.

A Little Headstone Architecture Lesson (one of many)

We begin our cemetery information with a small lecture on headstone/tombstone architecture. After you’ve walked through as many cemeteries as I have, you can tell the era in which a person died by the architectural design of their stone.

Picture 1:  This one, for instance is pretty new. I did not take a picture of the front of the stone because that is not what is important. Notice the engraving on the top side of the stone (here’s a closeup at Pic 2). Notice the depth of the design and the sharpness of the design. This is because of the modern techniques of sandblasting used to make this stone’s design. You won’t see that on stones prior to 1990.

Picture 5: This stone is late 1700s – those stones are thinner (remember no big machinery to haul it out of the ground and then to the cemetery in one piece).  The writing would have been done BY HAND on this one by a master stonecarver. I find that amazing.

Picture 6: Tombstones are now even polished to a smooth finish. I love the way that reflections show up in polished granite, whether it be pink, black or regular. This picture is a great example of the old way next to the new way. Notice the rose on top of the stone. I love this stone every time I see it – the rose is made from metal. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Picture 7: This is a highly stylized white marble monument. It’s relatively new – know how I can tell? First, the grains of the marble are showing, instead of being polished down. This is a modern design.  Marble is harder to get now and very expensive, so it’s not used as often as it was in the 1800s.

Picture 8: Marble, because it is a “softer” stone, is also easier to carve into beautiful iconic symbols. Like this one. We’ll go over iconography on a later blog, but notice the broken pillar and the funeral wreath on this stone. These are wonderful examples of iconography from the Victorian era.

Picture 9: I personally have a fondness for unusual stones used in headstones. Look at this pink unpolished granite stone. You can definitely tell it came from the clay-infused granite of North Georgia. Elberton, Georgia is considered the granite (read, tombstone) capital of the world. I order and travel directly to Elberton and haul my own stones back when I order them.

Pictures 9 and 10 are actually headstones side by side in the cemetery.  These are the stones of a  son, daughter in law, father and mother. The father was a Civil War General (iconography lesson in future post). Notice the differences in architecture. You can tell the difference in eras between the three burials and tell that the son didn’t have as much money as Daddy did. The stone for the son is much less ornate than his parent’s.

I could go on and on, but this first lesson is great for now. I welcome your constructive feedback.

A walk through a cemetery

My first blog in this reinvention has got to be about cemetery visitation. For me, a walk through an old cemetery is relaxing. And it’s a great place to learn for anyone of any age. What can be taught at a cemetery?


History – what illnesses were rampant at that time? If there are five graves in the same time frame, some illness or event must have occurred. To what historical events were the deceased probably a witness?


Respect – watch where you walk, don’t trample the graves, set upright any flags that may have fallen over.


Geology, Architecture and Period Design– This is my FAVORITE part of cemetery work.


For your next cemetery visit, please observe these rules:

  1. It’s considered disrespectful to walk over a grave. Try to step around if possible. And do I even have to mention that climbing on a tombstone is wrong?
  2. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER “rub” a tombstone. That will destroy the stone, especially old ones that are not as thick and are not engraved as deeply as newer stones are. I will share with you how to read a tombstone that is hard to read.
  3. Be careful. Tombstones, especially old ones, can fall over easy. They are heavy enough to break bones and have killed people. For the same reason, watch where you walk and do not run in a cemetery. If you fall; you will get hurt.
  4. If you see that a flag has fallen over, set it upright. If you see trash, pick it up. If a stone has been vandalized or needs attention, let the cemetery staff know about it.
  5. Feel free to walk around. Historically, cemeteries were the nation’s first parks. They were constructed with long, winding driveways and benches for sitting. They were made for visits.


I’m sure I can add more rules, but I want people to enjoy my column and maybe take a trip or two to their local cemetery.


My favorite local cemeteries are Elmwood in Columbia; Quaker Cemetery in Camden; Old Presbyterian in Camden, my family graveyards on Fort Jackson; and the Methodist cemetery in downtown Ridgeway. I love it when people suggest a cemetery to me, especially if it is off the beaten path. In my blog, I’ll try to introduce you to some of those as well. There will be a little history, a lot of humor, and nothing too morbid (at least not to me).


I’ll close today’s lesson with two great ways to read an “unreadable” tombstone:

  1. Grind up chalk in a blender and with your hand (hand, I tell you!), rub it onto the stone. The words will jump out at you.
  2. Use cheap flour. Place it in your hand and RUB it GENTLY onto the stone. During of my boy’s school projects, it suddenly occurred to me that flour plus water (i.e. rain), equal GLUE.  Although this type of glue is very water soluble (it will come off) – It will take several rains to wash this mixture off. Take a brush and water with you. Brush off all excess when you are done and then give it a good rinse before you leave. The next rain storm will take care of the rest.
  3. Take aluminum foil, tear off a sheet and hold it onto the stone. With your finger or the eraser tip of a pencil, lightly press into the stone until the words pop out. This takes time, patience and foil is kind of expensive. But the results are cool looking.

My next blogs will contain photos and I’ll begin teaching. Our subjects:

  1. What materials, finishes and designs make a “good” tombstone?  Why should I have a stone?
  2. How are tombstones made?
  3. How are the words put on a stone?
  4. How to care for a headstone without damaging it.
  5. Why do headstones tilt? How do you fix it?
  6. How were people buried in different historical time frames?
  7. Symbols and headstones.
  8. Tours of Elmwood, Quaker and other historical cemeteries. Feel free to suggest something local you think I’d like to see.



Reinventing my blog

Just an announcement that I am re-inventing my blog to include my genealogical research and my research on graveyards, mortuary science, and death in general. I’m not morbid, gothic or anything, I’m just fascinated by this topic. My belief system is such that death is not something to be feared. But I won’t be talking about death and the afterlife – I’ll be limiting myself to what happens to our bodies when we die? What does what I see in the local graveyard say about the people who are buried there?

I feel my Mid-Life Crisis coming on

It’s about time! I am beginning to feeMy future purchase - right honey?l the creeping beginnings of a full fledged mid-life crisis coming on. This is the crazy thinking that follows:

1. Look at all those pictures of the people I went to high school with. They look old. Do I look that old?

2. Can’t be that old. I just graduated high school yesterday.

3. My children are in high school. I have to be that old.

4. Umm. How about that? I’m grown up.

5. I’m grown up?! What the heck?!

6. Sigh. Guess that means I really am old.

7. Have I done everything I wanted to do before I got old?

8. Today’s music – I can’t understand what they’re saying. (Long pause.) Did I just say that?

9. Is that heartburn or a stroke?

10. This sucks – I’m not going to be old. Not me. Not ever.

11. I’m buying a convertible.


I always cry on the Fourth of July

I initially meant to post this closer to July 4, 2011, but I let it sit in my drafts for a while.

On September 11, 2001, I experienced extreme trauma as the attacks on our nation occurred and I watched on TV as the Twin Towers fell. I remember vividly sending my toddler son out to play in the backyard because I didn’t want him to see. My infant son napped peacefully in his crib. I was on my knees in front of the TV, begging God for mercy for those inside the Towers. I’ll never forget that I saw people jumping from the buildings, saw people running from the fiery Pentagon, heard that yet another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.

Subsequently, I’m sure I’ve got a bit of Post Traumatic Stress from that experience. Clearly from my own making, of course. I could have turned the TV off, but then again, how could I? It seems now that it would have almost been irreverent to snuff out what was happening by flipping a switch; almost like it didn’t matter to me.

The good news is that all over the United States, the events of that day renewed our sense of patriotism and loyalty to our country. My boys are growing up to have respect for the flag and for the soldiers who fight to defend it. Their uncle and their grandfather have the standing of superheros in their eyes because they served our country in war.

The other part of this PTSD that I’m really not all that worried about is that I always cry on the Fourth of July. An American flag flapping around brings immediate tears. Mandatory gear for watching a parade includes some tissues.

On Sunday, July 3 of this year our church had a service of honor for veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Forces, along with law enforcement, fireman and medical personnel. They sat them on the front rows as we paid homage to what they’ve done.

I did great until the end of the service. Our pastor asked for a moment of silence for those who had paid the ultimate price in service to our country. During the silence, the sound of weeping was heard. I strained to hear where it was coming from. It was coming from those front rows of the church, where those grown men wept openly and tried to comfort each other.

It tore me up, but I realized it wasn’t the sound that got me. It was their tears for friends lost, for the things they’ve seen, for the things they’ve had to do. It was tears for what they know that others are doing right now on foreign soil. They can comfort each other because they alone know what it is they need comfort for.

I can’t cry for those reasons. I’ve never been in the military. But I cry too. I cry out of respect for what little I understand about what they’ve done. Their sacrifice means my children live free. These men and women daily lay down their lives for my children’s freedom and protection just as I would.

My tears and respect are the only way I can try to repay the incredible debt I owe to them.