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Silent Witness


A small cemetery by a white clapboard church. So simple, they cover the landscape of the South, but seem to only be found when one is not looking. Keepers of simple prayers, with the whispered voices of generations embedded in their decaying structure, they call out to those few passersby.


Some have been swallowed whole by the very land whose people worked to the bone to tame. Those which survive--these small churches, abandoned to the testaments of old age, disease, and migration—stand guard over their congregants in the cemetery. Only now, the clapboard church is the one praying for deliverance from the ravages of time.


The tragedy residing in the cemetery does not require a storyteller. Four children, all siblings of varying ages, all succumbing to that final dark embrace within two years. The live oak holds them in its arms, swaddling their final resting place in blankets of Spanish moss. The sheer agony that mother must have felt is overpowering. Her coming to this live oak and laying her children down four separate times, each time praying fervently and with desperation that it would be her last. The live oak stands as strong then as it is now, freshly watered with tears.


A rustle in the leaves and a flap of wings marks the change of sentry. A warm wind blows and a creak in the eave echoes through the silence. The stillness that pervades is in stark contrast to what once was. The community flourishing on these grounds generations ago held a flurry of activity: laughter floating in the air, the smell of fragrant platters rumbling stomachs, music reverberating in the pews, and the hopes of redemption.


Perhaps the stillness is peace. Peace for those who found precious little respite in life: toiling in fields dependent on weather and pest patterns, answering the call to fight and returning home forever changed, raising a family and leaving them beneath a live oak one by one.


Peace is found, but the precarious structure still yearns for the days gone by. It is in its final years before the walls give way, and the steeple marks its resting place. Taking stock of its life, it has been cherished, loved, and a rest for the weary. It can accept the finality of its days, sadly knowing no one will be there when it too returns to dust. No one will say a prayer or offer the comfort of their presence when the end comes.


The only witness—a small cemetery.

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Really enjoyed "Silent Witness." It captures so many of my own ramblings around the states of TN and AL.

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Holly Bills
Holly Bills
Jul 11, 2022
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Aren't the backroads worth their weight? I love the historic buildings, even if they are suffering from neglect. I always wonder about the people that inhabited/frequented them.

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