Meaningful Memphis - Rose Hill Project, pt 3 - "the end of the beginning."
MIFA CommUNITY Days - September 8, 2018 - The Rose Hill Crew (photo by Steve Roberts, courtesy of MIFA)
It took me some years, but I learned to take large or long-term projects in chunks – small bites. In our last meeting Pastor Dawson spoke from the story of Gideon. The King had a large army to meet his enemy, but he was challenged to prove they were loyal. When the test was over he was left with 300 to face an opposing force of thousands. Of course it was enough. My Pastor reminded me that whatever volunteers we got would be enough, for it would be the ones that wanted to be there. I have also tried to learn to deal with challenges out of my control as they came. There were remnants of a tropical storm headed our way – would we be able to work? What was the alternative date? As our project date selected from MIFA’s CommUNITY Days drew near, it looked like we had a good forecast for the morning. It would have to be enough time with whatever volunteers showed. There were the Scouts and about 15 signed up online.
Local 24’s Dave Detling came out to do a story to help us gain support in the community. Before he left office, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell had a sign installed up front, large enough to see from Elvis Presley Boulevard. Memphis City Beautiful agreed to my request to deliver tools and wheel barrows the day before. Pastor Dawson and I picked up the lumber for five raised beds; ground contact 2x12’s cut to 4 foot lengths. Of course Rick Thompson of IBEW came through. When I arrived, the dead tree up front was taken down. In addition, he had neatly trimmed/limbed up all the trees in that front section! One of Pastor Dawson’s volunteers had oversprayed the gazebo he and I painted the weekend before, filling in a few areas we couldn’t get to and making for a bright white finish. I had painted a low wooden enclosure around the graves of the Lee/Mays/Robinson children’s graves. About 280 yards of fill, dirt and compost, had been delivered. The rain was holding off. It was time to plant! Looking back, I wish I could have put that day into slow motion.
We brought in the tools while Edith and a couple of MIFA volunteers signed everyone in – we ended up with 35 – Boy Scouts, Grace-St. Luke’s Vestry, Outreach, choir, and friends; Greater Abyssinia, and of course the Pastor and his crew from Cane Creek MBC. Dr. T. DeWayne Moore, Executive Director of Mount Zion Memorial Fund, was there with two other volunteers. Two ladies with an interest in Memphis history and cemeteries – one volunteer with Find A Grave, helped out. We even had three musicians. While the Cane Creek crew worked in the grounds, the other volunteers cleared the debris from the tree cutting/trimming. Once that was done, everyone that was able starting digging holes for plants.
The scouts and other volunteers built the raised beds and put them in place. I went with the crew from Cane Creek to pick up the plants from Urban Earth. I was getting concerned because the forecast window was closing and some folks who couldn’t dig or stay had left. The Boy Scouts and their adult leaders and families had made a lot of progress though. It was time to eat. Of course I shopped for a larger crowd, but the Cane Creek group went from cutting to transporting to firing up the grill. Everyone who was left got Angus burgers, hot dogs, chips, and soda. While they were cooking, we relaxed for a minute, I again got to tell the story for a video recorded by the Mt Zion volunteers, and we got a little music courtesy of a couple of hard working and sweating musicians. As we were eating, I began to hear thunder. It was time to go.
We made an immediate positive impact on that sacred ground – 17 of 23 plants in the ground, 3 of 5 raised beds filled and planted (I still don’t have a plant for the fifth one). The messy bunch of trees up front turned into a nice little grove and the gazebo gleaming white at the top of the hill – with roses on each side in a raised bed. There were roses at Rose Hill. My plan “B” for water was the jugs of water left by the volunteers. I split 5 gallons among the magnolia, camellia, crape myrtle, and arborvitae. Plan “C” worked out better though. At about 5:30 we got hit with torrential downpours, enough to cancel every scheduled outdoor event in Memphis that night. Sorry Memphis – I prayed for rain for the project plantings.
Since that amazing Saturday, I have been hard at it. One thing – maybe the only thing – I miss about home ownership is working a garden. I finished the plantings and moved a tree I had poorly sited. I filled the other two raised beds. The support from the City continues, with an opportunity to address the tree board, whose members have agreed to help assess the mature trees on site for trimming and removal as needed. Memphis City Beautiful is coordinating pickup of the debris from the trees Rick Thompson cut. The next phase will involve raising funds for a memorial to the unmarked and unknown persons buried here and replacement/repair of the fence. Nearly a month after delivery, I still hope Shelby County, after a change in administrations, will use the fill material to continue working on filling graves and cutting grass and weeds. It is getting badly overgrown, adding to the hazard of those sunken graves. I have some of the Outreach Committee’s grant left to buy more plants, but I have to put that on hold for a bit.
I have learned a lot about who to go to for resources, how a project like this can impact a neighborhood – there are two other abandoned cemeteries in the same area. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Memphians stepped forward to help to the best of their ability, whether it was donating goods (or deeply discounting), money, or time. And never underestimate the unstoppable force of a few Boy Scouts – Gideon would only have needed 35 if they were led by the young men and leadership of Troop 34!
To be continued…
Group, sign in, and clearing - (photo by Steve Roberts, courtesy of MIFA)
They all have stories. "They may not be in the history books but every individual in this cemetery has a story.