I got lost on the way to Clifty Cemetery last Thursday. Of course I did. I’d only been there once before, maybe 15 years ago. But that’s where Dad wanted to go, so I loaded him in the back seat and settled Google Maps Girl in the front. She told me it would take about 45 minutes and gave me turn-by-turn directions. A full tank of gas and I was ready to roll.
I got most of the way there when Google Maps Girl decided to take a nap without telling me. Dad was no help at all. I had a feeling I wasn’t on the right path, but I was in no big hurry, so I just kept driving. The country in east Tennessee is beautiful. The barely two-lane road was overhung on both sides with branches full of giant green leaves. Lush, verdant, jungle-like almost, then suddenly a break in the foliage gave way to a sun-sparked panorama that wouldn’t be believed if you painted it. I took a photo or two, but then decided I didn’t want to record it. I wanted to be in it and remember it.
People often ask me why my parents chose to retire to rural Tennessee from suburban Chicago. I say, “It’s a milder climate, they still have four seasons, cousins in the area, the taxes are cheaper.” But really, I didn’t know why until last Thursday.
As I drove up and down those hills, I found myself rooted to the landscape in a way I haven’t felt since my childhood in West Virginia. A feeling of belonging to that place filled me up with contentment. I wasn’t just a grieving daughter, a big sister, an unemployed copywriter. I was there, really there, and it felt good. The way it was supposed to be. The way I was supposed to be.
When I was ready, I woke up Google Maps Girl and she got me back on track. Clifty Cemetery was just over the Caney Fork River in a sunny little spot along Clifty Road. I pulled over, got Dad out of the back seat and walked around until I found the other Rackley graves. Hmm. Two James Rackleys, both died in the 1950’s. Which one was your grandfather, Dad? Then I remembered a photo from that long-ago Clifty Cemetery trip. My then-tiny nephew balanced on top of the bigger gravestone that marked my great-grandmother’s and –grandfather’s resting place.
Well, I couldn’t put all of Dad’s ashes around that one marker, so I scattered them here and there, in front and behind all the Rackley markers. I never heard Dad say there was a relative he didn’t like, so I hope he’s OK with that. I spent some time looking at the different family sections, wondering if the Hodges and Van Winkles and Brooms and Lewises did the same when they came to pay respects or bury another family member.
I walked around and around, reluctant to leave a place that I knew I’d never see again. But the sun was getting lower and I knew I had to get back to the house and finish packing the car. I thought I was just doing my duty when I spread Dad’s ashes in the cemetery where our ancestors were buried. Now I know he was doing me the favor of connecting me with my forebears and reminding me of who I am. A Rackley.