The Sassafras Thicket Cemetery

Like most country Churches in the area where I grew up, my pretend Church in the sassafras thicket had its own cemetery.  This was long before women could be ordained ministers so women preachers were unheard-of back then. Looking back, I can see how different I was from other little girls my age. I have always been a free-thinker or nonconformist, if you will, so I began to preach. I didn't deliver sermons, as such, but I preached many funeral services.

In those days children of all ages went to funerals with their parents. We learned, early on, the appropriate way to conduct ourselves during those sorrowful times. Most of the Whitts and Yandells, that I knew, were kind, tenderhearted and compassionate people. To this day, my children and I weep openly while reading a touching book, watching a sad movie, or even watching a sentimental commercial on television, I suppose it's in our genes.

Every spring Mama ordered baby chickens from the hatchery in Paducah, Kentucky. When the mailman delivered them, a few would be dead on arrival. Being caring and having a soft heart, I saw to it that they had a decent burial. Quite often I found a mouse caught in a trap, a baby bird which had fallen from a nest or a mole that my brother, John, had had dug from it's burrow. When I found one I ran to the house to get a Bible, a box for the coffin and some mourners. We set out for the sassafras thicket, stopping by the tool shed to get the grubbing hoe to dig the grave.  We then went to the Church and cemetery for the funeral and interment.

I remember the time the cat dug out a nest of baby mice, we rescued them, but they were so tiny they didn't live. I left them with Betty while I was making preparations for the funeral. Mama had an old, Plymouth Rock, rooster named "Old Dominecker." He was so mean we hated him with a passion. Every time we went outside he would fly towards us and try to spur us. When I got back outside, Betty was crying and said, "Munner, Old Dominecker ate the baby mice, all three of them!" Although the four
babies were gone, we still had a memorial service for them. The mourners, Betty, Dottie and sometimes Sybil Gibbs, our neighbor friend, were brought to tears by my oration of praise for the deceased. Two hymns I remember singing at the funerals were "The Old Rugged Cross", and "When the Roll is Called up Yonder." After the eulogy was given we gathered wild flowers to blanket the graves. To this day I can see, three year old Dottie, squeezing a bouquet of clover blossoms in her little hand and placing them on the graves.

There were always flat, smooth, fieldstones and pretty chunks of fluorspar lying around to use for head stones. I liked to use fieldstones, because I could chisel epitaphs on them with a 16 penny nail.

Now, I want you to know, I wasn't being sacrilegious, I was just a child showing compassion for God's little creatures. Even now, if I see a squirrel in the street that failed to beat an oncoming car, I wish I could go back in time to the sassafras thicket cemetery to give it a proper burial.

Milli Wilson
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