The Narrow Road | Teen Ink

The Narrow Road

August 3, 2012
By MadeleineR GOLD, Fort Wayne, Indiana
MadeleineR GOLD, Fort Wayne, Indiana
17 articles 4 photos 26 comments

Favorite Quote:
"But thoughts are tyrants, that return again and again to torment us." --Wuthering Heights

The roads twist and turn like snakes, bending suddenly without giving warning, or splitting off into different roads that lead down wooded paths, cast into shade by the green canopy above.

The mountains are a respite from the suffocating muggy air of the valley. The red dirt of South Carolina and it’s lush green grass, occasional patches of bamboo, scrub pines, and clear blue skies are beautiful, but rarely enjoyed in the heat that causes sweat to drip down your face and slide down the back of your neck, plastering your clothes to your skin. Opening the sliding door of the van, I step out of the crowded vehicle at the gas station that we’ve paused at. Instantly the cool air hits me, even at this small stop where trucks and cars pull over to refuel; the mountain air is crisp and clean, almost cold, and invigorating. The views are breathtaking, stretching for miles with wooded hills and distant peaks covered in swirling mist.

Climbing back into the van, amidst a truckload of siblings, their faces pressed against the glass windows to see the mountainsides they are passing, I slide the door shut and we pull away, heading up the mountain.

The road to the cemetery is narrow. Paved only with gravel that crunches underneath the heavy wheels of the vehicle, and shaded by tall trees that stand over a dense underbrush of lush green ferns. There is no going back on that road. You have to reach the top, so narrow is the road that you cannot turn around and go back the way you came.

At first we think we are lost, passing the occasional gravel drive way that they know must lead to a house, far off in the woods, but to their eyes leads only into the depths of the emerald colored forest. When we emerge out of the trees at the very top of the mountain, though, we find the cemetery.

Fenced in with an old, silver, chain link fence, a collection of graves is spread across the mountain side, with an open plot resting beneath the shade of a twisted old maple with moss growing up its sides and on its gnarled branches. Some of the headstones are newer, still polished and decorated with faux flowers that loving family members have set upon the grave in remembrance of those who had passed. But others were old; pitted from over a hundred years of standing on the mountainside, exposed to the harsh elements, the names engraved on the old stones worn away by time and weather, so that only a faint outline of the inscription remains.

Walking through the cemetery, I run my hands over the stones, savoring their cold, polished surface, and eyeing the names that date back a hundred years or more into the family history. It’s an odd feeling to be surrounded by the graves of family that you never met. A few mountain folk related in a distant manner, or some in a not so distant way, are waiting beside the small hole that has been dug for the box of remains. They lean against the graves, leaving empty cans of coca-cola as an ugly ornament in their carelessness. Pointing to the stones, they share their knowledge of the family history, and memories of the people buried beneath.

The ceremony is short, but not short enough. My legs ache as I stand listening to the ramblings of the pastor as he says a few poorly thought out words over my grandmother’s grave. It is obvious that he does not know her, and that his mind is slipping, for he wanders, fingering the bible in his hands but never opening it to read from its pages. My uncle steps forward and lowers the small black box into the hole. When it is my turn to go forward I kneel down and set the pink plastic hummingbird in the grave, my token in remembrance of her love of hummingbirds. On a second thought I take a small toy car from my purse, the bright orange color garish against the rust colored dirt, and set it atop the black box beside the hummingbird, but it’s black plastic wheels roll and it slides off, falling into the dirt on its side, wheels spinning with a faint hum only I can hear. I leave it, as a memory of the love of racing instilled in me by my grandparents. As a thank you. Now they rest in the grave, where time with slowly deteriorate them. But I like to think they will be there forever, where no one can touch them and take them away. They’re for grandma and Papa Mark, not for the people who will meander past the headstone with barely a thought to the people buried beneath it.

They shovel in the dirt, and everyone cries. It’s not until the first shovelful of dirt hit the box and it’s buried in the earth, unable to be reached, does the finality of death hit me. It’s like the narrow road that leads to the cemetery. There’s no going back.

The salty tears that run down my face and reach my lips taste bitter; I don’t like standing there where everyone can watch me cry. But everyone is weeping, so I guess no one will care besides me. Before leaving I plant a kiss on the headstone as a last good-bye, unsure if I will ever return to the mountaintop and my family’s graves.

The author's comments:
There is a cemetery on top of a mountain in North Carolina, deep in the smokey mountains, where my family is buried. There are family members from one hundred and fifty years back; confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. It's incredible to see all those graves and know I am related to all of those people, but it is very hard to bury people you love, even on top of a mountain, surrounded by family, with the most beautiful view you could ever imagine.

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