ERNEST and his Dead Tree Memorial Garden
In 1980 I was living in North Carolina with my husband. Our three children were “out of the nest” and I was working in our local hospital’s Emergency Room. The Hospice program was in it’s infancy and I decided to give it a try. I took the training program and became a care-giver working on a team with a nurse and one other non-medical person.
Most of the Hospice patients had very short life spans so it was difficult to get a real close relationship. However, there was one exception, in my case, and that was Ernest. He lasted for six months and we became fast friends. He was a 74 year old black man who lived just 6 miles north of me, so it was easy to keep in touch and we did so almost daily.
Ernest, and his wife of over 50 years, lived in a small cement block house that he had built years before. It was primitive but very snug with a simple front porch. The house was situated to the rear of the property and overlooked the land that had been in Ernest’s family for centuries. His many acres of open fields were rented by nearby farmers to plant tobacco and cotton.
The most unusual thing, however, was his “memorial garden”. It was an acre of lawn in front of his house that was carefully manicured and with 8 or 9 dead tree trunks that had been artistically placed.
These were not random trees, but ones that they had picked because of their interesting shapes. All the bark had been removed and the bare trunks were then sanded and polished with oil. The final effect was, indeed, a “garden of memorial statuary”, somewhat resembling sentries on guard.
Ernest explained it to me one day as we sat rocking on his front porch. It seems that his grandfather had loved the gnarled and stark-looking dead trees on his farm. When he died and they couldn’t afford a memorial stone, they thought to cut down one of his beloved trees and to use that. It soon became a tradition.
Ernest told me the story of each of the “statues” and who was commemorated there. He said they were re-sanded and oiled yearly and that was what gave them their lovely patinas. The two small trunks with intertwining branches were in memory of his twins who had died 48 years earlier.
That was over 25 years ago and I’ve lost touch with the family but I pray that that beloved patch of land remains. I’ve seen many elaborate and costly memorials...but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that exuded such peace and serenity.