The back roads on a Sunday afternoon might offer a better chance of an antique store than the four lane. That was my thinking anyway. So we set out on what became a real journey through time.
On Friday we’d driven the highways down to Statesboro. My daughter goes to school there and we were off to visit for the weekend. Family weekend, all of us together. Not much to see on this route. Fields, forests, truck stops. The road takes you around all of the towns, or what’s left of them.
The weekend was great, visiting, with each other, and visiting the town. But then it was time to go home. Rather than return the same way, I thought we’d try another route. Back roads. Small towns.
We found small towns. A cluster of houses centered on, well, I don’t know what. Each other I guess. With folks sitting on the porch just waving at the car as we passed by. And some of the back roads turned into dirt roads. This far south it’s not really dirt, but more of a sandy mixture. The car’s tires turned white after rolling though it.
Along the way the conversation turned to the old relatives and we decided that my wife had family buried in a church cemetery somewhere near where we were. The hunt was on for Mount Moriah.
The GPS we were using had a dirt road as a major landmark. We got lost. A young man standing in his front yard seemed likely to know where we were headed. We pulled into the driveway to ask. No he didn’t know, but if we rode down the road a bit, way out in the country he said, the lady at the store would know. I could only wonder where he thought he was living if down the road, away from his home in what seemed to me like the middle of nowhere, was the country. Off the dirt road? After asking two more local people where the place was, with none of them knowing, we tried another dirt road. Never did see the store with the knowing lady.
We did find another store. The one that my mother in law remembered. An old wooden structure, long since abandoned and now dilapidated, that had been her grandfather’s place of business. It was he and his wife who were buried at the church, not more than a quarter mile distant.
We pulled into the church cemetery and started wandering and looking. There they were. Two tombstones, grandmother and grandfather. My daughter’s great-greats. Another car pulled up to the church and after a few minutes a woman came out of the church and across the street to ask us if we were looking for something in particular.
My mother in law explained what we were doing and the woman’s eyes lit up and she said “let me go get Joe, you’re kin to him!” Joe turned out to be my mother in law’s cousin’s nephew. We were family and just like that, we were taken in and treated like we’d known each other all our lives.
Rachel, Joe’s wife, was so nice to us. She wanted to show us all around the church and show us pictures of all the old relatives. The family was big in the church. There was a stained glass window dedicated to my wife’s great grandparents. There was a spot on the wall in the sanctuary where someone had unloaded a double barrel full of birdshot in the middle of the night. We heard the story of how the church was built in 1867, and remodeled in 2009. We saw the old outdoor baptismal font, across the street and in the woods. She told us the story of how the road had been moved to get it away from the church’s front door. And how the last thing her father in law had made sure of was that the road in front of the church got paved.
There was a map of the cemetery plots. And we heard about how this aunt and that cousin were buried down the road in another church cemetery.
I’m sure they would have invited us to stay for dinner, or even to spend the night, but they were starting their youth group bible class and we were now of a need to hit the road. Heading toward the car we all hugged each other, even us in-laws. And of course they told us to come back, and we told them to come visit. A southern nicety.
I’d hoped for an antique shop. An old cemetery is always an interesting adventure. But meeting these people, relatives, and experiencing their hospitality, that was all way beyond expectation. And the best part of the day.
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