16 Dec From the cradle to the grave
by Vivian Lawson Hogue
Some things that come first are exciting. The first car, paycheck, house and child would be among these. Some beginnings are a normal or enjoyable sequence; some are simply necessary.
Included in the latter is something every person needs, and that is a place in which their body will rest while its soul takes flight elsewhere.
A walk through Oak Grove Cemetery is a trip through our Conway’s history. Perhaps the saddest part of old cemeteries is knowing that the earlier residents could have survived “if only.” Safer transportation; development of vaccines and medicines; surgery equipment, techniques and hygiene; technology; and childbirth and postpartum care have benefitted from advanced discoveries and the passage of time. Even as late as the mid-1950s, mothers were often kept in bed for five days after childbirth, with physicians unaware that doing so increased chances of killer blood clots for the new mother.
Long-ago Conway attorney Roy George Bruce, son of the late Col. George W. and Sarah Bruce, died at age 52 from a throat hemorrhage, thought to be a result of bronchial pneumonia. Upon Roy’s death, a newspaper report stated that “hundreds of friends gathered at the home of the late Roy G. Bruce to attend his funeral services. The entire Bruce lot was banked with the many beautiful floral offerings.”
Roy’s home has been my home since 1946, and I have sat in my porch swing and imagined the scene and the aromas of the flowers. He was buried in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery for which his father was the first board president in 1880. The cemetery is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Death comes to the great and small, and the deaths of children are especially poignant. The old, small gravestones of young children at the cemetery are often difficult to read because of what seem to be hardened splashes of tears. Time erodes surfaces, and most of the blemishes are actually lichen, a composition combining fungi and algae. (For information on cleaning headstones, visit ncptt.nps.gov/wp-content/uploads/CMC-Cleaning-Booklet-EN.pdf.)
Passing decades and general neglect have also allowed some headstones to lean, fall into serious disrepair and become illegible. There are few, if any, descendants remaining to care for many of the stones, but there is something about seeing them that can cause a stranger to feel somehow kin and protective. One wants to ask someone to maintain them, but there is no one to ask. It isn’t only the fact that a child passed away, but that it was someone’s hope and promise of another family generation. It isn’t only that “just people” are there, but that they are our city’s historical figures, prominent or not, who developed our community.
Styles of historic gravestones are many, and most are of marble, granite and zinc. Two of the most recognizable are those of members of the Masonry and Woodmen of the World. The former displays images of the Mason compass and symbols of higher Masonic degrees. The Woodmen of the World members have stones with the appearance of tree trunks, logs and scrolls. Children’s stones feature lambs or child-like items.
Some depictions are obviously the work of artists; others are unpolished but sincere. Obelisks, or tall pointed columns, are of ancient Egyptian origin. In Christianity, bodies of the deceased are traditionally oriented toward the Eastern sun, ready to rise again at the voice of the archangel. Cemetery epitaphs, or brief sentiments memorializing the deceased, can be heartrending in personal grief, others are quite straightforward.
One headstone of significance is for Dr. J. F. Kinchloe; its formation being a ziggurat, a formation of stacked stones of decreasing sizes leading to the top. It is believed to be the only one of its kind in the state.
The war casualty years range from the Civil War to current military conflicts. One can also only assume that several residents who died in World War I years were victims of the 1918 Influenza. Not to be forgotten is the occasional simple marker with only initials, the person’s place in life known only to God.
Out of respect, one tends to step lightly on the grounds of a cemetery. There are many senses experienced upon leaving a place of burial, not the least of which is loss. But very often it is relief for the deceased. A song with lyrics by Glen Campbell sums up the first moment of the anticipated life in the hereafter. The lyrics rejoice in stating, “No more night! No more pain! No more tears; never crying again . . . ”
On a soft sunlit day in autumn or a new-grass scented spring, those words are hope for those looking for it. A visitor gives a parting glance at a gone-but-not-forgotten inscribed name, perhaps illegible on the stone, but indelible in the heart.
A native of Conway, Vivian Lawson Hogue graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in art education. A retired teacher, she worked in the Conway School District for 23 years. She can be reached at [email protected].