Sunset in Somerset

Scott’s parents were missionaries in China. All I’m going to say at this point is that ministering the gospel in a closed country is definitely not for the faint of heart. Scott’s dad was very highly motivated and didn’t take much time off in the way of furlough, but with five kids, four kids-in-law, and something like 13 grandchildren Stateside  – especially with 13 grandchildren! – his mom did come back for visits from time to time, and in May of 2002, she happened to be in the States while Dad, in China, had a heart attack and died.

Through a truly amazing series of events, Scott “happened” to have a valid Chinese visa and was able to fly there with Mom to comfort her and help with all the final arrangements, cremation, funeral service, burial, etc. So Dad’s body was cremated and buried overseas, but Mom wanted there to also be a service here in the U.S. with a marker placed adjacent to the plot where his parents had been buried, in Somerset, Kentucky.

At the time, quite a bit of money had been spent on a very nice headstone and plot, and later that year (or was it in early 2003? I know it was cold…) Scott had met Mom there in Somerset for Dad’s Stateside memorial ceremony. However, neither of them (and as far as I know none of his siblings) had been back there ever since. But when Scott realized our vacation would take us through much of Kentucky, he thought it would be fitting and proper to go back to Somerset to locate his dad’s headstone and take some pictures, mainly for his mom who is now 83 and unlikely to travel to China or Somerset in the near future.

We assumed this would be a quick and straightforward visit. We’d go to the cemetery, look around, and find the headstone. I’d take some pictures of it, the surroundings, Scott by the headstone, etc., and we’d proceed on to our sweet cabin in Townsend, Tennessee. Once there, or maybe even on the way, Scott would send the pictures to his mom, she would be happy (and probably sad), and we would say, as does the narrator when the Peach exits the scene, “good has been done here.”

It wasn’t quite that simple.

For one thing, there are THREE cemeteries in Somerset.

For another thing, having slept some 5,475 times in the intervening 15 years, Scott no longer had in his mind a clear picture of the cemetery, the plot, or the headstone, although he did recall that the latter was upright and of a fair size. We prayed for God to grant us favor and help us find Dad’s headstone. We were sure he would! This was, after all, a very important mission.

I was driving and Scott was navigating on his phone. He found addresses for the three cemeteries (amazing thing, that Internet) and we followed Siri’s directions to the first one. Let’s call it Cemetery “A.” After many convoluted gyrations and navigational hiccups caused primarily by an extremely poorly positioned and crossing-less railroad track, Siri proudly announced that we had arrived at our destination: an extremely seedy house in a very run-down neighborhood. Hmm. Clearly not a cemetery. Frustrated, we drove around a few blocks and up a steep hill and did find one, but it was HUGE(!!!) and nothing about it looked familiar to Scott. Sigh. We drove back and forth and up and down its many driveways, scanning for an upright headstone of fair size but finding nothing promising. The place was so massive with so very many hundreds (thousands?) of markers that it would have literally taken us all day just to traipse through the whole thing. Hopefully Dad’s headstone was in Cemetery “B,” which would hopefully be a much smaller piece of real estate and which would hopefully look familiar to Scott. We were quite hopeful.

Unfortunately, after another 20 minutes of driving characterized by much turning and backtracking and re-turning and re-backtracking, we finally came to the conclusion that although Cemetery “B” may well have existed in Somerset at some time in the past, it no longer did. We found an apartment complex and a community college, but no cemetery.

Another frustration was that it was by now about 5:00 PM on a Sunday afternoon, which meant that there was no way to call any human anywhere to find out anything. But just as despair threatened to descend, Yours Truly had what she thought might indeed be a brainstorm: with all the tech-y stuff nowadays, wouldn’t cemeteries have online lists of whose bodies were buried in them? Well, guess what? They do! So Scott began looking up his dad’s name, but could find it listed nowhere. And then we thought, “Well, his headstone is right where his parents were buried,” so Scott looked for either of their names. And found… nothing. The hours were ticking by, daylight would soon be fading, we were both tired and hungry, and we still had quite a drive to get to our digs in Townsend that night, BUT we are Robertses, as as we all know, Robertses don’t turn back and they don’t give up. Having come so far, were were DETERMINED not to leave Somerset without finding Dad’s grave and gaining photographic evidence thereof, even if we had to take the picture with flash!

Scott was just about ready to quit and go on, but I said that since we’d come so far, we might as well check out Cemetery “C.” Surely it would be there, but if not, at least we’d be able to say that we’d done all we could do, that we’d left no (head)stone unturned. Besides, I did NOT want to have to tell Mom that we couldn’t find it, that we didn’t know where Dad was buried. We even called her to see if she could describe the place or the cemetery or surrounding area or anything, but she could not.

Cemetery “C” was some ten miles out of town, out in the country. It was basically a field down in a valley, and as we approached I knew it could not be the right place. It was one of those cemeteries where there are no upright headstones. All the markers are flat on the ground (much easier for mowing and weed-eating, I’m sure) and each one has one of those identical metal cone-shaped holders for flowers. Now, I actually like exploring a good cemetery. I get into wandering around and reading the inscriptions and seeing when people lived and for how long and figuring out who was related to whom, etc. But “C” was a cemetery with absolutely no character; it was to cemetery what tract housing is to neighborhood. I was trying to not to cry as we drove away.

I gave up trying.

This whole thing was just about too sad for words! I cried so hard Scott offered to drive.

Of course, Dad’s body was long gone, but not his memory, and it just didn’t seem right. We were so terribly disappointed that we couldn’t find the place, and I think we both realized that what it meant was that NOBODY in our family – nobody who remembered Dad and cared – nobody would ever know where his headstone was. Whatever money had been spent to have it made and shipped and placed was basically wasted. There’s a big headstone where his ashes are buried in China, but Scott hasn’t been allowed back there.

While I cried, Scott called his mom and left a message saying that we had tried our best, but we couldn’t find it.

In addition to making me cry for quite a few miles, this situation also made me think. It made me think that I want to be sure to look up the information my parents prepared a lot of years ago about their wishes for what’s to be done with their bodies. It made me think that we need to find out what Scott’s mom wants done with hers. And if that is, “be buried next to my husband,” well, it looks like that can’t happen.  = {  It made me think about what Scott and I want our kids to do with our bodies, and where. And it especially made me think that I want to make sure that Scott’s and my names and our currently living parents’ names all get entered into some online cemetery registration(s), so that if somebody in the future wants to visit our/their grave(s), they can look it up and know where to go look. Sweet Georgia Peaches!

And if anybody’s reading this who happens to be around when I leave this earth, be it noted that I don’t give a flying rip how much weed-eating hassle my marker causes; I want a headstone that stands up and says something that matters! While I guess I can handle that business of grieving without a body, I think having a headstone firmly anchored to the earth at some known physical place – while it obviously matters not one iota to the deceased – is really important for the the living who remain and remember.

So, through my tears we left Somerset, probably forever, and turned southeast. It was about 7:30 PM and we still had 159 miles to go, but we’d be traveling through some truly gorgeous scenery. After all, eastern Kentucky is awfully close to West Virginia!

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?” Psalm 121:1

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