Mansfield Cemetery gates

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1800s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. The books are available from Lintern for $25 a set, tax and shipping included. Each book is about 120 pages written for intermediate readers (4th grade) with local illustrations. Volume I is Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II is Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III is Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV is Mr. Gamble Starts a School. Volume V is Jacob Blows his Horn. Volume VI is Cassie Fights the WarVolume VII is Emilene Adopts Her Family. Volume VIII is David Dances the Bases.

Better not stick my foot in the pie!

Sunday brought the first day of Spring that suited an outside picnic, and Mama Autumn was not going to pass up the chance to have Sunday dinner at Zeiter Cemetery.

How Natalie found herself hanging on to the back of a carriage surprised even her.

It was a tradition for many families to gather the generations now living at the place where the previous generations rest in peace.

The large Mansfield Cemetery on the south side of town, up the hill from Ritter’s Run, would be full today with such families, many of whom were descendants of city founders. The older family members would gather the children and tell stories of their parents and grandparents, while the “in-between” adults would politely look on, silently mouthing the words of stories they had memorized years before.

That is what Mama had in mind, but her destination was north of town, out the State Road, a mile past the turn toward the old Oakland Inn, to a crossroads that stood out among the flat farmers’ fields, only recently cultivated, but without much growth yet.

Young Levi, who was one of those “in-betweeners,” guided the carriage, which contained Old Levi — Papa — and Little Levi, all on the front bench, with Mama, Angela and Uncle Lucas in the back.

That left Natalie, who had spent the weekend at Mama and Papa’s, along with cousins Levi and Jacob. While the cousins ran home in the morning and so were riding out with their families, Natalie was retained by Mama to be the guardian of the goodies.

A large basket of food was strapped to the buckboard in back, and Natalie was expected to keep it from falling off the back or bouncing around too much.

Not much room for me, and I can’t even eat any of it. Oh, that smells good.

“Find the smooth parts of the road, Levi. We have a lot of food that does not need to bounce out of the basket,” Mama said.

“Yes, Mama,” Young Levi said, in a tone he had been saying for most of 40 years.

Jacob and Lucinda followed in a buggy, with 9-year-old Jacob Levi (not to be confused with 8-year-old Levi Jacob, although he often was), and 5-year-old Katherine. Natalie entertained herself by making faces at Katherine, even though most of the time, only the horse was watching her.

Grace and Josiah were a half hour behind, having finished church at the Presbyterian Church later than Mama had at the Lutheran Church.

Cassie and Marty, with Johnny, and not Natalie, would be last because, while their journey was the shortest of all, their worship service was the longest of all.

Of course, not everyone could be there. Autumn’s older brother Samuel had moved his family from Arkansas to Fort Morgan, Colorado. Her younger brother Josh was somewhere in California, having gone there in the gold rush of 1849, and stayed to farm near Sacramento.

Levi and Autumn’s son Philip moved with his wife Savannah to Chicago, and son David, Grace’s younger brother, lived a half day away in Oberlin, with his wife Melody.

Emilene, remember, was visiting in Germany.

When the families arrived, the adults took to setting up a table Jacob had brought, and arranging the food, while the children ran among the stones, playing tag and keep away. By the time everyone had arrived, the children were hot and sweaty, even though the day was still a bit cool, with only a slight breeze.

In short, it was a perfect day in May.

Papa prayed over the food and over his family, then the everyone devoured the chicken and beef and biscuits and potatoes with gravy and the first leafy salad of the season.

Each adult took a plate of food and sat on one of the tombstones, while the children gathered on a blanket in their midst. Natalie watched her mother as she quietly ate.

“You once told me, Mama, how grateful you were that you never buried a child, and here I sit with three whom I’ve buried. The twins died before they took 10 breaths, and little Robert never even crawled,” Cassie said.

“When you buried your children, my heart was buried with them. I could only imagine, and now I know,” Autumn said. She was looking at Nathaniel’s grave.

“Nate lived 34 years, Robbie not 34 weeks, and the twins not 34 minutes. Life is just a breathe,” Cassie said.

“Nate used to give me a ride on his leg,” Natalie said. “His left leg.”

“The leg he had left,” several chimed in together.

“He was funny. So many jokes about himself. He never seemed to let his war injury get the best of him,” Papa said.

“And then it got the best of him,” Jacob said.

Natalie looked puzzled.

“Infection, Dear,” Mother said. “His leg became infected, a little thing at first, but it just got worse and…”

Support Our Journalism

“So there he lies, with two nieces and a nephew, with his grandparents and aunts and uncles,” Mama said.

“And one day with us,” Cassie said.

Jacob started singing the hymn that had been introduced in church that day:

God be with us till we meet again,

By His counsels guide, uphold you,

With His sheep securely fold you,

God be with you till be meet again.

And everyone joined in:

Till we meet, Till we meet,

Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;

Till we meet, Till we meet,

God be with us till we meet again.

Everyone was quiet.

Then Natalie heard herself say,

“Who wants more chicken?”