The grandest slate of all
By Tom Poland
Rocks preserve our feelings, record important things, and tell others that someone dear once walked this green Earth.
To the dismay of some, rocks commemorate unjust wars but they’ve also elucidated and educated us. Teachers wrote on slate blackboards and students wrote on slate tablets in the famed little one-room red schoolhouse when penmanship mattered.
Rocks give us a way to express emotions. I see boulders spray painted with teen puppy love sentiments, football logos, and graffiti, but tombstones and monuments catch my eye the most, and more often than not they’re slabs of hard, heavy, dense blue granite, with letters, numerals, and art incised into them.
Among my favorite tombstones are those near Durham, N.C., where Fabius Page erected a cemetery for his beloved mules and horses. “Maud, Brown Mule, Very Gentle 1906-1939.” “Lulu, Bay Mule, Very Sweet.”
God bless Fabius Page for leaving us his chapel in the woods. I suppose his granite tombstones came from Mount Airy, which boasts the world’s largest open-face quarry. Here in Georgialina we can thank Elberton, Ga., and Winnsboro for the copious amounts of blue granite we see wherever we go.
I’m no geologist but I can visualize massive veins of granite running from Elberton beneath Clarks Hill Lake, coursing beneath Abbeville, below Lake Greenwood, and on to Winnsboro where blue granite achieved fame as “The Silk of the Trade.” Love that. Referring to rock as silk. What imagery.
Some seven years or so ago I trespassed into an abandoned quarry. Towering walls of granite surrounded me. A million suns sparkled all around me yet I found myself in a massive mausoleum.
I shouted “Hello” and my voice reverberated off rock walls as a thousand hellos answered back. From such a place came the granite I’ve seen as fence posts, mailboxes, homes, memorials, and more than once a front yard where a small cemetery sat by the highway. There lives an enterprising fellow who will sell you a tombstone for dear old grandma.
My father bought his own mausoleum, two chambers, one for him and one for Mom. They sleep forever now side by side. They sleep and dream blue granite dreams. I stand by them when I am at my church and I talk to them.
Through the dense blue particles of mica, feldspar, and quartz, through this igneous rock, once molten, my words make it to them and I know they hear their first-born again.
Thanks to tombstones and monuments, blue granite ascends from the bowels of Earth to form the grandest slate of all. When Earth finally dies, when some apocalypse scorches all and the ice caps melt and the seas evaporate, granite markers will still stand and should some supreme alien species come here they’ll know a literate, cultured civilization once existed on this charred, blackened globe.
Granite’s memory, how indelible. I will forever remember James Agee’s words in “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” for there he described a cemetery in “Shady Grove, Alabama, 1936.” On the back of a headstone he saw the likeness of a 6-year-old girl. From its front, he read 19 words a young mother and father had engraved into that stone that you, too, will recall forever henceforth.
“We can’t have all things in life that please us. Our little girl, Jo Ann, has gone to Jesus.”
I’ve not seen Jo Ann’s stone but I like to think it’s blue granite, blue indeed, bluer than blue, blue as my father’s eyes, blue as his mausoleum catching and holding the Georgia light day after day until night drops and takes it away only to gleam anew as the sun ascends yet again.