This time of year, local cemeteries usually have a designated day when families come out to clean, fund raise and fellowship together — but with the onset of COVID-19, cemeteries all over the county have cancelled their annual meetings.
For some cemeteries, this is the first time ever their meeting has been cancelled. It’s that way for Old Center Cemetery, Jimmy Sheffield said, as well as Conner Cemetery, Elaine McPherson said.
“It hurts because that part (cancelling) hurts, and the other thing that hurts is we didn’t get our letter out in time, and so we’re really hurting,” Sheffield said of Old Center. “Because we get a lot of what we call “May Work,” and we get a lot of donations, and our donations, I was hoping, I had talked to them, and told them the letter should have went out in January. If it had, we would have beat this virus, because there’s a lot of people that can’t give a donation because they’re not working right now, which is completely understandable. So we’re going to really be hurting this year.”
These events have traditionally been a time of fellowship as well as a time to clean up the graves at the small family cemeteries dotted throughout Panola County.
“We have a big place at the front, if you’ve ever been to Conner, where nobody’s buried in the front, and so it’s all this green grass,” McPherson said. “Now there’s a lot of sand... but we have a wonderful time, and this year everybody would have been able to come in mother’s immediate family.”
Cancelling these meetings was not an easy or a happy decision, especially with the loss of funds that are usually gathered this time of year to help with upkeep and maintenance.
“It’s really sad to have to cancel this, but we feel that it’s necessary,” said Wanda Gaines with Rocquemore Cemetery. “And we’re just hoping that everyone will send their dues in, and we’re going to continue the work. That means that the cemetery will be kept.”
With everyone’s health on the line, however, it was a decision that had to be made.
“It was kind of a common sense deal; everybody knew we weren’t going to have it,” said Sheffield. “Ours is the first Saturday in May, and we just knew no one was going to show up and everything... I know no one wanted to take a chance, and I didn’t want to take a chance myself.”
“My mother, Elizabeth Parker, this is a big huge family thing we do every year, and everyone is expected to attend, and she was really disappointed,” McPherson said. “And even if we decided to go and do the social distancing, her children were really worried about her because she’s 84 and she’s got those risk factors, but then all of her first cousins also have those risk factors, and they all show up too.”
Social distancing would have been a difficult thing for Old Center Cemetery if they had gone ahead with the event.
“We have these long tables on each side of the gates, and that’s where everybody puts their tablecloths and puts down all their food, and everybody knew, even the out of town people, because you’re so close together when you do that, and if we had our regular crowd, they wouldn’t have been able to do that anyway, because we wouldn’t have had enough room, everybody would have had to bring their own coffee tables,” Sheffield said.
The only thing to do is to move forward, organizers said.
“We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing,” Sheffield said. “... I imagine we’ll just go along with what we got and just redo it, start back again next year.”