Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rock Hill Cemetery, Loudoun County, Virginia

In observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Washington Post has been printing articles on many facets of the war. The Post collected them in an e-book called "Civil War Stories: 150th Anniversary Collection." I have been going through it. I recently read an article on African-Americans from Loudoun County, Virginia, who fought for the Union, some of whom were buried in Loudoun either during the war or afterward. This morning Karen and I drove to the southwestern part of Loudoun to explore a cemetery mentioned in the article: Rock Hill Cemetery. It is one of numerous relatively small African-American cemeteries in Loudoun, indeed in Virginia and throughout the south. Of those in Loudoun, many are terribly neglected. Rock Hill stands out for the quality of its appearance due to the efforts of Vernon Peterson. Karen and I had the great privilege of being there this morning when Vernon Peterson showed up to attend to some chores at the cemetery. We introduced ourselves, and we spent a good half hour or more talking to him and hearing stories of his life, of his family and other people in the cemetery, and of his years of tending the grounds. Now in his 80s, Peterson has been caring for the cemetery since the mid 1950s as a true "labor of love." He has many relatives in the cemetery, as well as a headstone ready for his wife and for him when they pass on. He even has two granddaughters buried there, one who died of cancer when 8 years old, and one who died as a college student in the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007. We also met a friend of his named Thomas who comes to help him from time to time. As part of our time, Mr. Peterson showed us the grave of Dennis C. Weaver, a black Union soldier from Loudoun County. He served in Company D, 1 United States Colored Infantry. Weaver was instrumental in the creation of Rock Hill Cemetery in 1889 as a resting place for blacks when they could not be buried in cemeteries reserved for whites. Vernon Peterson and Thomas, elderly African-American men from small historic communities in this part of Virginia, have lived through interesting times, and they have seen many changes in society. As they talked, it was as if we could sense deep undercurrents of the challenges they faced, as well as the joys they knew, in negotiating life in Loudoun County from the 1930s to the present. Now Vernon Peterson anxiously wonders who will care for Rock Hill Cemetery when he rests in the ground there from his labor. There is no figure on the horizon.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Kwanzan Cherry Trees Past Peak of Blooms

Such a lovely litter
do wind and trees make
as petals loose from leaves
then swirl and sweep through air
always toward earth
there to cluster and clutter
yet still allusive of beauty
as what is felt but unseen
lifts and scatters them
across lawn and street
where another spring morning
our feet once lightly went