Authors note: When I was in the Marines, all the best stories started with some variation of “That ain’t no shit…” Well, this ain’t no shit either!
I parked my truck in front of the old church just as the morning sun was peeking over the treetops along the eastern side of the highway. As quickly as I could, I moved my gear to the rear of the cemetery and staged it in the edge of the woods there. Shovel, arms cache, rake, and a scrap of old carpet were positioned out of sight behind a large oak tree, just in case some other early morning cemetery visitors showed up unexpectedly.
The particular grave I wanted to use for the purpose of hiding some guns and ammo was just a few steps away from the treeline, and I was fairly certain that any cars approaching along the highway could be heard in plenty of time to stash anything incriminating if the sound indicated they were slowing to pull into the cemetery.
Lest my reader think ill of me for disturbing a grave, allow me to explain that I had no intention of disturbing the grave itself, but merely to hide my cache behind, rather than in front of, the headstone. These are, after all, strange times we live in. And the old man sleeping here had been awaiting judgment day for over a hundred years now. Besides – from what I knew of the old fellow I was fairly certain he would understand.
As further camouflage for my activities, I unloaded a weedeater, lawnmower, and other yard tools and positioned them strategically at the rear of my truck.
Once everything was in place, I began to dig. The soil was soft and the shovel was as sharp as I could get it, but the sweat was streaming down my face in no time just the same. This was a task I would be happy to finish quickly and be on my way.
For the next few minutes the only sounds to be heard in this little country graveyard was the sound of a fat old man laboring with a shovel. Then came a sound that made me almost jump out of my skin.
I whirled around, and nearly fell over in the process. Seated just a few feet away on another headstone was an old man. One leg was crossed over the other as he sat there calmly puffing a pipe. He was dressed in an old-style brown woolen suit, and he had an old wide brim hat on his head that looked like it had seen as many years as he had. His demeanor was thoroughly calm; almost disinterested, and the expression on his face was one of mild amusement.
I’m sure I stood there, shovel in hand, huffing and puffing with a surprised look on my speechless face.
“I don’t reckon you ought to be doing that young fellow. Folks don’t take kindly to being disturbed ya know”. His voice was deep and melodious, and the accent was that of a man born and raised in the southern Georgia backwoods.
“I’m sorry” I replied. “I really need to hide something, and this was the very best place I could think of to hide it. I didn’t hear you walk up.”
He eyed me for a moment without speaking, took another puff off his pipe, and then said “Well whatcha hidin that’s so all-fired important that you have hide it in a cemetery?” My comment about not hearing him walk up was ignored.
For a moment I felt a little silly, but clearly there was no turning back now. And the thought occurred to me that the only way out of certain trouble was to make my point to this gentleman sufficient for him to see the wisdom of burying guns and ammo in a cemetery.
“Well sir… this PVC pipe is filled with a couple a rifles and about a thousand rounds of ammo that I am scared to keep at my house. I’m fairly certain that I’ve drawn the attention of this evil federal government that is busy destroying the Republic, and I’m scared of a midnight visit to my home”.
As I spoke I laid my shovel down and then leaned against the headstone I had been digging behind. At my words I saw the first flash of something other than amusement in the old man’s eyes and I was afraid that I’d said something to offend him.
“What’s that you say boy? Government destroying the Republic! Is this still America or what?” he said with a degree of force in his tone that hadn’t been there moment before.
“Let me tell you sump’um boy” and he leaned forward as he spoke, his eyes becoming steely and his brow furrowed “My grandfather was a Lt. in Colonel Anderson’s Company during the Revolution, and him and his men didn’t go off and bury their rifles! They shot King George’s troops with ‘em!”
His ire was clearly up now, and his demeanor no longer that of a kindly old country gent. His pipe now forgotten in his hand, he stood up and hitched up his britches in the manner of someone resolved to action. In a sweeping gesture with his free hand he continued on: “Boy… take a look around yerself here. Ain’t you standin amongst two hundred years of your own family? And don’t you know these folks were made of stern stuff?”
Indeed I did know where I was, and I knew very well that my grandfather, his father, and his father’s father all lay within a few yards of where I now stood being lectured by a man whose identity was beginning to dawn on me.
“I know who you are Boy. I’ve watched you since you wuz a young’un. And I watched your Daddy too. Didn’t he go to war half way around the world back before you wuz born? He damn sure did! Hell… back in 1861 me and all my brothers, and every one of my cousins, and every able-bodied man in these here parts – we all signed up to go fight them sumbitches that come down here from up North. You ought to know Boy… we ain’t never been the sort to run and hide!”
Hearing these words I knew that the man standing before me had departed this world in 1901, and was none other than my own great-grandfather – whose grave it was that I had disturbed. Yet rather than fear my only feeling was one of profound shame. His words struck to my very core. My father had fought the Japs on Okinawa, and this old man had fought against Sherman in his march to the sea. His father (my great-great grandfather) had served in the militia during the War of 1812, and that man’s grandfather had organized a chapter of the Sons of Liberty that was so effective in harassing the British in and around Savannah that he was mentioned by name in the Georgia Governor’s letters to King George.
These things I knew well and the truth of his words had cut me to the quick. I had bowed my head lower and lower with each word from the old man, and now as he seemed to pause, I raised my eyes and looked him full in the face. All the pride I had ever felt in my ancestors now welled up within me, and I spoke to him from the bottom of my heart.
“I hear you Grandpa. And I reckon you’re absolutely right – There’re other things I need to be doing with these”
The old man smiled a smile of love - in a face framed in pride - and slowly faded from view.