It was on May 13, 1983, my birthday. Six Oaks Restaurant was then in operation near Alexander’s Store on Upper Choestoe. My husband treated me to a delightful meal at the restaurant in celebration of my birthday.
When we finished dinner, the late afternoon sun cast pleasant shadows and we decided to explore the old Six Oaks Cemetery adjacent to the restaurant. It got its name from the stately sentinel oaks that shaded the graves, a few marked with name stones but most with only field stones.
Birthdays tend to bring on reflection of the brevity of life. As we examined the gravestones at Six Oaks, only three had legible names and dates: Mrs. M. Jane E. Jackson (Nov. 26, 1863-Jan. 17, 1887); Elmer Jackson (Aug. 1, 1895 - Oct. 1, 1895); and Esley Souther (April 4, 1885 – Dec. 15, 1885).
A faint stirring of kinship and the recognition of surnames familiar to me made me want to learn more about those buried there.
I thought of lines from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Perhaps that English poet had visited a cemetery similar to Six Oaks when he penned:
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laidBut “Death, the Great Leveler” is no respecter of persons. Whether prominent or inconspicuous, each person must meet an inexorable appointment. Gray’s elegy continues:
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
All that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Since that visit to Six Oaks Cemetery in 1983, I have learned that the marked and known graves in the cemetery are of the following people. You can read the list in the Union County Cemeteries book published in 1990. In addition to Mrs. M. Jane Jackson, Elmer Jackson and Esley Souther, these were buried there, too:
Jonathan Cook, 1815-1861 and his wife, Rebecca Jackson Cook, 1816-1860. She was a daughter of William and Nancy Ownbey Stanley Jackson.
Several children’s graves are in the cemetery, some marked and most not. Among the marked ones are Esley Souther, April 4, 1885-December 15, 1885. He was a son of Rebecca LaVerne Jackson who married James Francis Souther. Rebecca LaVerne was a daughter of Johile and Jane Duckworth Jackson. Rebecca and James Francis Souther moved to Taos, New Mexico, leaving behind the grave of their infant son in Old Six Oaks Cemetery.
William Jackson (1798-1859) and his wife Nancy Ownbey Stanley Jackson (1793-1861), subjects of last week’s column, were buried at Six Oaks. Another Nancy Jackson and another William Jackson (no dates) were also buried there.
Under the shadow of Brasstown Bald Mountain, these descendants of William and Nancy Jackson sleep. Several infant graves brought speculation about what caused their mortality. Some resting there may have endured ravages of the Civil War, torn between loyalty to their nation and to their region. Others, barely tasting life, met death before their dreams took substance or were ever formed.
Again, Gray’s “Elegy…” came to mind:
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care;
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knee, the envied kiss to share.
That evening in 1983 we drove through Choestoe’s winding roads back to our home at Epworth, Georgia. The setting sun shed a reflective glow on hills and valleys. The poignant message of the wayside cemetery and its three marked graves among the dozen or more unmarked ones kept tugging at my mind. I composed this poem as a result of that birthday experience:
The Cemetery at Six Oaks
by Ethelene Dyer Jones
Were those oaks to speak,
Those stones their muteness break,
The unmarked graves yield forth
The knowledge of their dead,
Then we could know the truth
Of those who lived and died,
And glimpse the lofty dreams
That flowered for awhile.
But time and muteness hold
The secrets of this place,
And buried ‘neath these stones
Are stories never told.
Enotah towers above
These dozen solemn graves;
And Six Oaks branches whisper
No answers to our quest.
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 8, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.