Saturday, May 20, 2017

There is a cemetery on a hill in a place called HogJaw Valley. It is the repository of members of multiple families that have lived, loved, fought, and died in that place. It is a place where loved ones have been brought home, after death, to rest for eternity. It is a beautiful, flower and stone filled place, that is cared for by a dedicated group of individuals who want to honor the seven -plus generations of families who are buried there. Its name is Harris Chapel Cemetery in Jackson County, Alabama.

This past Saturday, family groups met at the cemetery to clean graves, place bright new bouquets on old and new grave markers, and gather for some of the best eating you could want: the potluck lunch at the pavilion!

Honoring the Morgan Family

Each year, the Harris Chapel Cemetery group honors a family that has members buried in the quiet hill. This year, it was the Morgan family. We heard from two sisters, whose mother, father, uncle and aunt had been laid to rest together on the hill.

They talked about their grandmother’s growing up, how she was traded by her dad, at 13, to a much older man, a whiskey maker up on Sand Mountain, for a jug of whiskey. This event began a life of hard work and hardship. She had three children before that first husband passed, two boys and a girl. She then remarried, another hard man, who, unfortunately was not the loving stepfather they might have wished for.

After one particularly bad day, they told how their uncle – the oldest child and still a young man – took a rifle and attempted to kill the stepfather, but received a head wound so grievous, he was never the same. He was sent to a sanitarium across the state. For years, his remaining sister, the mother of the two speakers, would provide clothing and small supplies, but because of the great distance, would be unable to visit her dear brother.

The two ladies gave their mom credit for realizing, as she raised her own five children, that she wanted better for her children.


This daughter was also placed in an arranged marriage. Her two daughters told us about the five children before turning twenty-five, the generous gift from another family of a wringer washer which became a treasured possession, the friendship of neighbors and churchgoers, and the strong support their mom gave each of them to get far away from this beautiful, but not prosperous, valley.

The girls did find a way to go to college, to leave the area, and settle in another city in Alabama. They report of prosperity and better times. Eventually they were able to bring their momma to live with them, but she insisted she wouldn’t go without that ringer washer! When the request came from the sanatorium for more clothing and supplies for their mom’s brother, they arranged for her to deliver the items in person. She was able to see her brother for the first time in 27 years. They would later bring their uncle to live with them until his death several years later.

These stories bring such life to the stones that mark the graves. It softens the rough hewn edges and makes even the bare and stony red ground seem more welcoming. There are many babies buried here, and mothers who didn’t live thru childbirth. There are sons buried long before their time, beloved and mourned. There are patriarchs and matriarchs – men and women who founded dynasties just a surely as any well known king. Then there are the soldiers. The cemetery holds the graves of unnamed and unknown confederate soldiers who died protecting something they felt sure of. We will forever honor these men who died fighting in a war, far from their homes. The realization that the names carved on these stones belonged to flesh and blood people who ate and drank, who married and bore children and raised sons and daughters, and mourned their losses, helps me to feel a connection to these souls; many of whom I never met here on earth. For a complete list, click here.

The Hembree clan met later for our annual meeting. We brought everyone up to date on the house, the lands, including walnut and pine trees, and maintenance still to be done. We’ll get together again soon to maintain our presence in the valley! In caring for and remembering our dead, it seems to make our time with the living that much sweeter!