Letter to the Editor
A recent stranger to Jackson on business, I jumped at the opportunity to visit an old and dear friend of mine, though my time was short before I had to fly back home. Late spring had already become early summer in southern Mississippi, the beautiful sunny day heating above 80 degrees, with a light breeze still wafting through the trees around the city.
After a light lunch, my friend decided to provide the whirlwind tour of her town, driving me around in the car for glimpses of the neighborhoods, landmarks and colleges, and I was fascinated by the wealth of history that Jackson boasts. At the edge of Belhaven University, we paused and parked on Pinehurst Street across from Eudora Welty’s home, a handsome Tudor-style structure that her parents originally built and where she wrote all of her major works of literature. Wishing for more time to tour the house and gardens, we waited for the light afternoon traffic to clear and pulled back into our own personal tour agenda.
Circling the city, my friend drove past the Mississippi State Capitol, still referred to as the new capitol building by some, the gilded eagle perched atop the dome facing staunchly away from the federal capitol in Washington, D.C. By this time, my brain was filled with so much, I felt like we needed a break, and we conferred to see what I might have time left to do.
Satisfied we had a little leeway still left in my schedule, my friend asked, “Would you like to visit Eudora?”
Now, both of us share a love of the author, and I became slightly confused since her house was back across town. “I thought we didn’t have time for that.”
“Not her house. Her.” She pointed over her left shoulder.
“Sure,” I stammered unsuredly, and she whipped a quick left onto N. President Street and then another left onto George Street until we saw what looked like a large park ahead of us, revealing itself to be a cemetery once she turned left and a right into the entrance at the corner across from the west side of the State Law Library. The contrasting white letters on the open wrought iron gate spelled out GREENWOOD.
Driving up the paved cemetery road, she drove the car beneath two huge arbors entwined with snaking wisteria vines, but far past blooming. Passing a small building on the left, she continued past the stone headstones until we reached an elongated loop surrounding a large monument dedicated to Reverend Amos Cleaver. Past the paved circle, a graveled two-track continued, and my friend followed its rectangular path until we parked in the shade of a large tree directly west of the monument.
Out of the car and into a thicker copse of aged trees, my friend led me to one of the benches next to Eudora Welty’s grave, a smaller headstone of her one-year-old brother, Christian, just next to her. Sitting together in her presence, my friend and I talked of her books, caught up with each other as the lemony scent of magnolia blooms carried to us on the warm breeze. A few small stones marked earlier visitations and respect, and I touched them to add my own.
Not remembering, I asked if Welty had ever married. My friend told me no, but that there was speculation that she had been in love with another writer, Ross MacDonald, from California. Up to his passing in 1983, Mr. MacDonald and Ms. Welty exchanged almost 350 letters. With that amount of correspondence, I shrugged and speculated myself, but leaving the idea to rest in this appropriate place. Ms. Welty herself has rested in Greenwood since her death in July of 2001.
Fascinated by the life and history that cemeteries represent, Greenwood Cemetery captured my fancy, and I was happy that my last spare minutes in Jackson were spent with my extraordinary friend in such an exceptional place. As we drove back towards the gate, we stopped at the little house to pick up an informational brochure before driving on. I discovered that I must someday return to visit other famous figures, including seven Mississippi governors.
A few days later and many miles away, I reached out to Mrs. Cecile Wardlaw, the executive director of the Greenwood Cemetery Association, a volunteer organization dedicated to keeping Greenwood cared for and respected. More than happy to impart her passion for the cemetery and its value to Jackson and Mississippi, she told me that the area’s almost 20 acres is the largest green spot in the downtown city. And although the park maintenance division does its utmost to maintain Greenwood, there is still so much that can be done by volunteers working in conjunction to preserve this state landmark, where so many historically important Mississippians rest.
If you have never visited Greenwood Cemetery, when the stress of your week is too much, stop and take a quiet walk, experience the past, enjoy the open green space. If it speaks to you as it did to me, perhaps consider being a part of keeping Greenwood Cemetery green and clean, and visit the Greenwood Cemetery Association webpage at www.greenwoodcemeteryjackson.org/ for more information.