This post was written by Daddy Honey after he took the boys and their cousin, Aila, on a little trip up the hill...
When Woody's cousin, Aila, was in town, Teresa and her mom went out for a while on Sunday morning. So the three kids and I took a hike up Rock Street to the top of a hill near our house (historically known as East Mountain). The boys have been to the Confederate Cemetery there a few times before, but I hoped Aila would also enjoy the historic site. We had a great time...especially after we all made it up the mountain despite some disbelief that it was possible. Woody and Fox got to show Aila the marble cannons on the memorial in the middle of cemetery and the hole in the western wall where Woody likes to pretend the cannons have fired. I got to show her the Arkansas champion sugar maple that was planted soon after the cemetery was established in 1872.
Across a gravel road from the Confederate Cemetery is the family cemetery of a prominent Fayetteville family, the Walkers. The southwest corner of the Walker Cemetery contains the graves of Judge David Walker and many of his immediate descendants. That section is plenty creepy and cool for a visit--so much so in fact that Fox gets a little scared in between excited discussions of zombies and skeletons and the soldiers buried there--while being regularly maintained along with the Confederate Cemetery. A few of the Walker men served in the Confederate Army, and the Judge was President of Arkansas's secession convention. There are crumbling sarcophagi, including one for a baby, and the wrought iron fence is bent in parts so the effect is pretty good.
But what makes the family cemetery really fascinating--for me at least--is that there is another three quarters of the Walker Cemetery that is not maintained at all. The rest of the cemetery has been overgrown by decades of trees. I cannot tell for sure whether some of the toppled headstones and obelisks scattered in the grove are discards, but there are several identifiable burial plots. Many of the graves are unmarked, while others have only broken stones remaining or crudely carved pieces of the local sandstone now wedged between roots with nothing engraved at all.
As we poked around along the small paths and around the undergrowth past where the fences that are still standing, I noticed a headstone with only a first name: Sally. A few feet away was an even smaller one with no markings at all. I asked Woody and Aila , why did they think the grave would only have only one name? They weren’t sure what to say, so I suggested that she might have been a slave. Like most prominent southern gentlemen, Walker owned slaves. I mentioned that to the kids and said that it is likely, as is a true of family graveyards throughout the South, that somewhere nearby or within the graveyard there would be graves of slaves and former slaves associated with Walker and his descendants. Not one to beat around the bush, Aila stopped me before I got too far off on a lecturing tangent and asked, “what is a slave?”
I told her how African Americans were once owned by others and didn’t have a lot of the freedoms that all Americans enjoy today. I know, it’s a big topic, but we were able to talk about issues like choosing what kind of work to do and being able to get an education and whether to get married and have a family. We revisited a couple of things we talked about in the Confederate Cemetery, about the Civil War and the soldiers from Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana who are buried there, and how the Confederacy, which defended slavery, lost. I told them how part of being a slave was not being able to really have anything that was all your own, including your own identity. Slaves were often known only by their first names and that not having last names was part of not having any control over what happened to themselves or their families.
To be honest, I cannot say for certain whether Sally was a slave or not. (The history of the evolution of the cemetery is an ongoing pet project for me now.) Was she owned by the early Fayetteville leader? Did she live to see freedom and to still be denied a last name, a last indignity, even in death? In family plots, children are often remembered with only their first names, and in many private cemeteries, families didn’t engrave any stones. So she could have been one of the Walkers. But being in that space where nearly two centuries of Fayetteville history is observable, and where the changes of a Southern town can be looked at in detail or encapsulated succinctly, provided a chance to talk about a complex issue while we were exploring and playing together. The dimensions of historical time (how long ago is 150 years anyway?) can be hard to grasp for anyone. One of the things I love about cemeteries is that the change over time a place has experienced is so clearly illustrated. There are the dates and names and personal descriptions of course. But there is also the decay and the landscape, the monuments and artistic preferences, and in memorial cemeteries, the direct association with local and national history.
Public monuments can make for tricky history. (Like discussing cause and effect and the Civil War through memorials erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated to the “just cause,” or in the case of Fayetteville, a cemetery established by an even earlier group, the Southern Memorial Association). Still, cemeteries are so wonderful in how they lay it all out, plain and visible and with equality (in the end) for all. Aila, Woody, Fox and I got to see the cool and the creepy stuff, and we got to explore history while having fun, all just a half a mile or so from the house.
My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.
I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.
Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.