Libby Callicoat’s labor of love

Published 2:01 am Sunday, April 16, 2017

By Andy Belt

Libby Callicoat knows everything about Taylor, Mississippi. Born and raised in Lafayette County, she follows in the footsteps of her ancestors who have been living in the area for at least 150 to 200 years, according to her estimates.

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As we drive through Taylor in her pickup truck, she’s quick to point out sites that are long gone: the plot of land that used to be a football field where she broke her toe playing as a child, the worn down storefronts in the town center and the school building that hasn’t been used in years. Callicoat waves at most people as we pass them. For her, Taylor means home.

“I feel sorry for people who don’t know where they come from,” Callicoat, a retired schoolteacher and current bus driver for the Lafayette school district, said. “Every place in Taylor has a story.”

And that also goes for Yocona Cemetery in Lafayette County where Callicoat has been volunteering her time for at least the past decade. The Taylor Baptist Church owns the cemetery and Callicoat, who is a member of the church, is in charge with the upkeep and maintenance of the grounds.

“Through the years, I sort of took it over,” Callicoat says of her cemetery responsibilities. “My mother and daddy were members of (Taylor Baptist). Someone would take care of it for a long time and then they’d get sick and pass away. Then somebody else would do it.”

Callicoat assumed the job after her mother, who used to be in charge of the cemetery duties, passed away in 2008 from breast cancer.

“She got to where she couldn’t do it and nobody else wanted it,” Callicoat remembered. “It’s very easy, but it’s a very important job and nobody wants to do it.”

As for her duties, Callicoat says the job is straightforward: keep the grass from getting overgrown, trim back the elm trees and keep track of the donations from Taylor Baptist members. If someone wants to be buried in Yocona, they’ll go through Callicoat first to pick out their plot.

But Callicoat admits she can’t do it all alone. She credits Bill Knight, who has been mowing the cemetery’s grass for 15 to 20 years, with keeping the grounds looking as neat as they do. His lineage also goes far back in Taylor.

Within the cemetery rest some of the founding members of the Taylor community from the 1700s. Callicoat’s forebearers are also interred there.

Her respect for the past can’t be overstated.

“It’s about the love,” Callicoat said regarding her work. “It’s not something that has to be done. I respect my elders and ancestors. None of us would have a darn thing if it wasn’t for our ancestors. I don’t want anything. This is my honor to take care of ancestors.”