By Richard Mabey Jr.
One of the things that my Dad taught me, from a very early age, was to hold a love and respect for my family heritage. And this manifested itself in a very real and practical way, to care for and to decorate the gravesites of beloved family members who had passed away. I am positive that I was six years old, the first time that Dad, Grandpa and I visited the gravesites of my ancestors, just about a mile west of the old Mabey Homestead, along Route 202, behind Whitehall Methodist Church. That moment in time burnt a special place in my heart. I still remember that somber, reverent, respectful spirit that ebbed and flowed from the hearts of my father and grandfather, when visiting the graves of my ancestors.
When I was in high school, my Mom would buy a flat of flowers from one of the local flower growers along Beaverbrook Road. Then on a Saturday morning, my mom, dad, sister Patti and I would drive off in the Ford Country Squire station wagon, down Route 202 to the Methodist Church, where the Mabey ancestors were all buried. It was a funny thing. It would be a joyous little family outing, but it had a golden cord of loving reverence tied to the moment
My sister and I would plant the flowers in front of the grave. My mom would help us, some of the time, but it was mainly a caring task that bonded my sister and I to our family heritage. At each grave, Dad would tell us a little story about the loved one who now resided on the far side of Heaven’s Gate.
Dad would kneel down with Mom, Patti and I and clear off any tree branches that may have fallen near the graves. We would gather them up and put them in the back of our station wagon and bring them home to put in the woods behind our house. I remember that my sister and I would bring one of those big, brown paper bags that grocery stores used to use to pack your groceries in, before the advent of the little plastic bags. We would fill the paper bag with the pinecones that abounded about the old Mabey graves.
I learned so much about my family heritage, from Dad, during our family gravesite visits. Whenever we visited the grave of my dear Great Uncle Earl, Dad would tell the story of how Great Uncle Earl never left Beavertown, which was the former name of Lincoln Park. Then, when he got drafted during World War I, he was shipped to France to fight in the front lines, where he gave his life for democracy.
Then we would visit the grave of my Great Aunt Edna. She went Home to be with the Lord when she was only a year old. My father knew the story, oh so well. Dora Mabey, my great grandmother, had told Dad the story so very many times. The passing of Great Grandma Mabey’s daughter, Edna, and her son, Earl, was a deep and painful loss to her. Something from which Great Grandma mourned for, her entire lifetime.
When we would stand before Great Grandpa and Great Grandma’s grave, Dad would sometimes get a big choked up. Sometimes he would actually cry. Dad would do his best to hide his tears. Dad grew up in the home that his father had built at the end of Mabey Lane. His grandparents lived in the home at the corner of Route 202 and Main Street. So, in his childhood and youth, Dad saw his grandparents each and every day, playing in the big open field that adjoined the two homes.
Dad would always say a short and sweet prayer at the foot of every grave, right after my sister and I planted flowers in front of each grave. It was always a moment in time that dearly touched my heart.
I now live in one of these gated communities in Florida. I do my best to make it up to New Jersey at least once a year. Each and every visit that I have made to the Garden State included putting flowers at the gravesites of my relatives. When I’m kneeling at a relative’s gravesite, planting flowers, I can still hear the echo of my father telling the story of that particular loved one.
In memory, I recall those days of innocence. How dear they were to my heart. Sometimes I put the words “Ford Country Squire” in an internet search engine. And, seeing the photos of that great and marvelous station wagon, with the wood grain panels, can bring me back to those glory days of my youth, in the 1960’s.
Oh, to turn back the clock, to return for even just one more day. Gone, oh lost fiber and weave of the days of innocence. Before home computers, the internet, cell phones and even cable television. Oh ghostly, lost days of a simpler time.
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.