I went for a run this morning and came across this sweet little cemetery. It has only four gravestones, all from the 1800’s.
It may be one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. It was so quiet and tranquil. The rustling of the wind on the nearby palms sounded like the comfortable whispering of the family who are buried there. It is a truly special place. For some reason it made me think of my grandfather who was born in 1904.
My grandfather is buried in cemetery half way across the world from this one in a little town called Parys in South Africa. My grandfather was a farmer in a nearby town called Vredefort.
During one of my visits home some years ago, my mom and I went to visit my grandfather’s grave outside Parys.
The tombstones lie in a clearing surrounded by bluegum trees and thorn bushes and yellow Savannah grass. The cemetery is no longer in use and when we got there we found the outside sadly overgrown.
Most of the families who have kin buried there have passed away or moved on to bigger cities, two or three hours away, like my mother did.
I opened the rusty gate and we walked through the tall, dry grass to where my grandfather rests.
As we made our way into the clearing, sitting between two gravestones, we noticed an African man on an overturned plastic paint bucket with his back to us. He was washing one of the tombstones with a cloth.
In front of him were three barefoot little African kids. Two girls and a boy. They were sweeping around the graves with brooms that were made of dried grass. It was so sweet. They were happily chatting away while they swept. They could not have been more than five or six years old.
It was too cute how seriously they were taking their chore.
The kids suddenly stopped sweeping when they saw us and looked a little afraid. The man turned, saw us and stood up. He wiped his hands on his faded pants.
“Morning mummie, good morning sir,” he said touching the brim of his hat with his finger.
“Good morning,” we replied.
The man said something to the kids in what I believe was Tswana. The kids backed away and started moving off.
“No don’t worry,” I said, smiling. “It’s no problem. The kids are doing an important job.”
“Very important,” said the man, smiling.
I waved at the kids and said hello.
The man said something to the kids and they smiled and waved back at us.
“Hello,” they all said, grinning broadly.
“That is my grandfather’s grave,” I said, pointing to a gravestone near where the kids were. “And over there is my great grandfather and great grandmother.”
“Mummie, is that your father?” he said, pointing at my grandfather’s grave.
“Yes it is,” said my mom in her sweet, high voice as the kids looked on very inquisitively.
“Mmm, mmm, mmm,” he said, nodding. “Don’t worry mummie, I am looking after your daddy very nicely.”
His words were so touching and sweet. I felt my eyes well up.
We talked to him for a bit, and as I am wont to do, I played with the kids while my mom explained to the man how she grew up in the area. He told her he was raised on a farm near there too and that he now worked and lived on another farm very close by. He and my mom determined they were about the same age.
When we were ready to leave, I asked the man who was responsible for paying him to maintain the cemetery, as I wanted to contribute.
He told me nobody was paying him. He said he just came to the cemetery every couple of weeks with his grandchildren and did some cleaning up. He said he was passing by one day and saw that the graves were overgrown and some were even falling over and he just wanted to make it nice.
“You should get paid,” I said. “And I’m happy to do so. It’s a big job.”
“It’s not a job sir,” he said, quietly. “It’s just respect.”