I’m not the most psychic member of my family, unfortunately. Vibrations have to be exceptionally strong for me to be affected by them. My most memorable experience happened in a mountain graveyard nearly twenty years ago.
My friend Tooey had taken me to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was late in the year, a dull heavy cloudy November day. I had the experience in the cemetery of the Primitive Baptist Church, the oldest church in the Cove; many of the earliest and most prominent settlers in the area rest there. Now there are paved paths through the cemetery and the graves are roped off; twenty years ago the paths were dirt and you could walk among the graves.
We passed the grave of Russell Gregory, arguably the Cove’s most famous resident; he was murdered by North Carolina rebels during the Civil War. I felt no vibrations near Russell’s grave. A few feet beyond it, though, was one of those sad little tombstones that mark the graves of small children.
By that tiny grave, I stepped into the blackest grief I have ever felt in my life. It was so powerful I burst into tears and all but fell to my knees.
Today that little tombstone is so badly broken as to be unreadable. Then it was cracked, but on the side facing the path were carved the words “Suffer the children to come unto Me.” To this day I can’t tell you why I didn’t step off the path and around to the front of the stone to see if I could read the name and dates. I can only say that I cried there for some minutes, feeling what can only have been the despair of that child’s mother.
Within another couple of feet, I walked out of that grief.
Across the cemetery, almost directly opposite that wee grave, there’s a line of nine graves from one family. Seven are children’s graves, and most of them never reached their second birthday. I’ve never felt grief near those graves; only at that one beyond Russell Gregory’s.
I’ve never learned that baby’s name or when it lived. I’ve often wondered if it was a firstborn, or worse yet, the only one its mother ever bore. I have been back to Cades Cove many times, in every season, and I have felt that mother’s grief every time, but never as powerfully as in that leaden November.