The cemetery, an irregular shape of ground, four-sided but narrowing almost to a triangle, with the confederate graves all running to a point in the direction of the depot, was surrounded by a dense high wall of honeysuckle, which shut out the sight of the cotton wagons streaming by on two sides, where the roads converged to the railroad tracks, the river, the street, and the gin. The school, where the Fairchild children all went, was across one road, and the Methodist Church with a dooryard bell in a sort of derrick, was across the other. The spire, the derrick, and the flag pole rose over the hedge walls, but nothing else of Fairchilds could be seen, and only its sound could be heard--the gin running, the compress sighing, the rackety iron bridge being crossed, and the creak of wagon and harness just on the other side of the leaves.
A smell of men's sweat seemed to permeate the summer air of Fairchilds until you got inside the cemetery. Here sweet dusty honeysuckle--for the vines were pinkish-white with dust, like icing decorations on a cake, each leaf and tendril burdened--perfumed a gentler air, along with the smell of cut-flower stems that had been in glass jars since some Sunday, and the old-summer smell of the big cedars. Mockingbirds sang brightly in the branches, and Fred, a big bird dog, trotted through on the path, taking the short cut to the icehouse where he belonged. Rosebushes thick and solid as little Indian mounds were set here and there with their perennial, worn little birdnests like a kind of bloom. The gravestones, except for the familiar peak in the Fairchild lot of Grandfather James Fairchild's great pointed shaft, seemed part of the streaky light and shadow in here, either pale or dark with time, and ordinary. Only one new narrow stone seemed to pierce the air like a high note; it was Laura's mother's grave.
I don't know how this would strike anyone who didn't grow up in the American South, but to me it is evocative, so redolent of places I've driven through. Growing up in the city, I was never a part of this South, but I have always been an observer of it. There are pieces of it along all the roads I drive on my way to anywhere: an old abandoned school here, the small white church there, and the cemeteries everywhere. I sometimes pass old gins, rusty and still in the middle of nowhere, full of the ghosts of the cotton wagons. I took a couple of pictures of one when I went on retreat last year near Camden, MS.
I'm going to try not to write any more about this book until after Easter. I wish some of you would read it so we can discuss it--at least more of us than just Sally and I.