Oxford’s cemetery glistens in the morning sun

Published 6:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2016

My neighbors are the most peaceful souls in town, and I have missed them.

They rest in the Oxford’s cemetery, undoubtedly the most beautiful spot within our municipal lines. Stand in the center of the old St. Peter’s portion of Oxford Memorial Cemetery, amid the aged but sturdy cedars that stand guard near the high point, and look across our signature soft rolling hills, to see how death becomes living art.

The ornate stones, the morning fog that lingers when the sun rises across the cemetery early mornings, and evening strolls that reveal in lasting sunlight the names of people who walked the same streets as we do.

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When I get below William Faulkner’s grave, out from the old St. Peter’s and into the lower lines of Oxford Memorial Cemetery, I know most of the names on stones I pass.

Yes, too many young people passed too soon. Some elderly ones had difficult last years. But it’s easier to find the brightest spot of how these souls once lived with us, as teachers, students, carpenters, business owners, physicians and so many more ways that made Oxford a special place in their time here.

Many of them made us laugh, and I can hear them speak like it was yesterday. Often, they make me smile again.

We lived next to the cemetery for years, on the corner of Jefferson and North 16th Street, before moving away in 2003. My daughter learned to ride her bicycle there, when a young friend pulled her to the drive, helped her up on the bike and successfully gave a shove and encouragement.

Using such hallowed grounds as a playground is not advised, but I can’t help but think that many Oxford souls were smiling that day when my pig-tailed princess pedaled around and around the cedar-lined circle.

We have just moved next to the cemetery once again, near our old house, and with a better view of this treasured place than we had before. We always missed it, and talked through the years about how the Oxford cemetery makes for a strong neighborhood.

Now, early mornings with coffee once again means watching the rising sun kiss the dew-covered ground, making Oxford’s cemetery glisten while the rest of the city slowly awakens.

Oxford’s cemetery has been more on my mind this week because of something Beth Ann Fennelly said when named Mississippi’s Poet Laureate. She isn’t from around here, as the saying goes — originally at least.

Chicago is a long way from Oxford, but this is where Fennelly and her husband, Tom Franklin, have lived for more than 15 years. So when Fennelly noted on her appointment day that she and Franklin had recently purchased five plots at the Oxford cemetery for themselves and their three children, it was her way of saying that Oxford, and Mississippi, is home.

And I know what she means, since in my years living away from Oxford, I rationalized that the distance wasn’t too bad. But I always thought, with a sprinkle of fear, that I just didn’t want to be caught dead away from here. I would much rather be, when all is said and done, with my peaceful friends and neighbors.

So, it is good to be home. Right where I belong.

David Magee is Publisher of The Oxford EAGLE. He can be reached at david.magee@oxfordeagle.com.