Place Spouse Part One: Cemeteries

Barefoot Florida Girl!

It has been a while! My last post was a few years back, and at the time we were thinking of moving to Minnesota. Update: We did not move to Minnesota! Instead, we moved back to Florida, and I am home! I made the most of one amazing year in my hometown, Lake Wales, Florida, where my great-great grandmother, my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my father, and I were all born. Right about the time of the Covid-19 shut down, we moved an hour and a half north. I already miss my home town, but my new town is pretty cool, too.

In a beautiful book by Stephen Becker, called The Last Mandarin, the main character refers to the city of Peking (now Beijing) as his “place wife,” the most loved, while other special places could only be referred to as mistresses. This is how I feel about Lake Wales. It is my place spouse. I don’t think I had a tremendous love for it when I was growing up. At the time, it was simply all I knew. We were not rich; I was not popular; I didn’t do anything special at all. While many of my school friends stuck around or returned after college, I lived elsewhere for many years. I didn’t know how much I loved the place until I came back. Again, I didn’t do anything special. Maybe the realization of my love came from running into people I had known as a child at a church rummage sale, or by Lake Wailes, or at Publix. Maybe it was spending time trying out all the local restaurants with a friend I’ve known my whole life. Maybe it was the way her husband befriended mine. Maybe it was the fact that the most traffic I ever saw was Easter Sunday morning when everyone was headed to sunrise services. Maybe it was because we were not the only people praying over our meal at KFC. Maybe it was the parades and celebrations. Maybe it was all those things, along with the places, the sights, the sounds, the smells that just make me feel like me.

Among the first places we visited were the two cemeteries where my family are buried. It took several trips to find the first one. Whidden Cemetery is on Whidden Cemetery road (seems like it would be easy to locate, but it was not!) off Highway 60 in West Lake Wales. I believe at one time this area was called Enterprise, but in my family’s old stories I just heard it called Sick Island. Now, that’s a legacy! Where did your family come from? Why Sick Island of course. A trip to the cemetery there shows the reason for the nickname: many young ones died from small pox in that place. My great grandmother Amanda told me many stories of orange seeds planted and growing into tall trees, of babies born and dying before they had a chance to grow, and of leaving molasses on the front porch for the Native Americans, who left venison in exchange. Her mother and father are buried there at Whidden Cemetery. To touch their crumbling headstones was to touch the history of life and the hardships of homesteading in Central Florida.

My great grandmother was not buried at Whidden Cemetery. So the Lake Wales Cemetery was our next stop. There, I found my great grandparents, my father’s parents, and my mom and dad. I stopped at each. I remembered each. It had been a very long time. After a long day of traipsing about cemeteries, I’m sure my husband was ready to go home. He waited patiently, though, because there was a pair of graves I couldn’t find. I never knew my maternal grandmother. My mom didn’t talk about her much except to say she was comfortable and kind. She was plump, and my mother was not. My mother used to say how nice it was to have a nice, plump mother’s lap to sit in and she was sad she wasn’t more comfortable to cuddle. That always made me laugh. I knew my grandfather. He was born a yankee (gasp). So was my mother, but you certainly wouldn’t know from her southern accent that she was born in New Jersey. My grandfather was a mechanic at Waverly Growers. I loved him, and I loved watching baseball with him. My mother always took me to her mother’s grave to leave flowers, and we went together even more often when my Papa died and was laid to rest beside her. I needed to see them again, but I couldn’t find them. I kept telling my husband that I remembered the vase between the graves had intertwined wedding rings on it. After a long search, we pulled up beside a caretaker’s building at the back of the place, and a very kind gentlemen went through the books of burial plots until he found my grandparents for me. Joy and relief. And there were the wedding rings. Home. My Granny, my Papa, Mom, Daddy. Home. I don’t know why I like cemeteries so much.

More of my favorite places next time.

1 thought on “Place Spouse Part One: Cemeteries”

  1. Hello DeLyn! Are you out there? My Tuesday morning Ladies’ Bible Study is going through your book, “Full Accessories of God.” Let it be known that you’ve made me burst into tears in front of a group of 10 surprised women twice now, and I’ll probably do it again! We’re not even done with the book yet, but I know I’d love to ask you some questions when we’re done, and I’m wondering if you’re out there.

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