Some fifty years ago, when the nights grew long and the days were short, my Grandmother used to sit on the porch and watch the moon rise. She would string beans if she had them, or shell peas, but in January, she usually sat and hummed snatches of old hymns. She had a preference for the dark ones that spoke of judgment and Apocalypse . . . a time when the stars will fall and the moon will turn to blood.
Oh, the stars are falling,
Oh, the moon is bleeding!
Are you ready for that day?
That song always frightened me, and as we sat there in the chill night air, I would sometimes suggest something more cheerful. “How ‘bout ‘In the Sweet Bye and Bye’?” I would sing a few words about how we would “meet on that beautiful shore,” but my Granny would just smile and watch the moon until it vanished behind a cloud over the Balsams. Then, she would sometimes tell stories.
I remember the one about “Sweet Sedro.”
Sedro was Granny’s old boyfriend. I don’t think their courting amounted to much and consisted mostly of Sedro showing up in the yard up in Big Ridge with a three-piece suit, a black derby hat that he had bought in Atlanta and a pair of Spanish boots. Sedro was a fancy dresser, and he liked to pose and strut about the yard in Big Ridge while Granny sat on the porch swing. He would tell her where he had been . . . mostly far-off places, and he would describe mountains and rivers in some distant land. That went on until Sedro came down with scarlet fever and abruptly died.
Granny described Sedro’s funeral. It was quite an affair, and of course, Sedro was the main attraction. His coffin was black walnut, according to Granny, and Sedro had his three-piece suit (blue wool with a bright, red pinstripe in the vest and a silk tie). Several relatives brought cameras and took Sedro’s picture.
Sedro was buried in Hamburg Cemetery down near the river. Granny was married by then, but she remembered the funeral and Sedro’s derby hat which rested on his chest between his folded hands.
Six months later the great flood washed away a goodly part of seven counties in western North Carolina. It was called a “cloud burst” and didn’t develop like most floods. Granny said it rained for almost a week back in the high mountains, and all of that water created a flood that came suddenly out of the mountains and often created rivers where there had been no rivers before. It unearthed great rocks, carried off barns and houses and created great piles of rocks that can still be seen. People were so busy trying to rescue livestock and stay above the flood-line that they didn’t know about the graveyards for a week. Hundreds of graves were washed away in Cashiers, Glenville and Tuckasegee. It was only when reports began to come out of Georgia that the extent of the damage was known.
Towns in Georgia reported that large numbers of coffins were either trapped in bridges or scattered along the riverbanks. Many of them were actually in tree-tops. Then began the awesome job of identifying the remains in the coffins and notifying the families. The retrieval went on for months. Families gathered in churchyards throughout the mountains for the reburials. Some of the coffins were never found. It is possible that some of them made it to the Gulf of Mexico. Sedro was among the missing.
“I don’t know where it is right now,” said Granny, “but I have a postcard I will show you sometime. It is a picture of the ocean and there is a man standing on a dock or pier . . . a man who is dressed in a beautiful suit and he is waving a derby hat at the camera. The card had come a long way, I guess, because it was beat up and faded. I can read the message though. It says, ‘Agnes, wish you were here!’”
A stray beam of moonlight washes across the porch and my Granny smiles at me and says, “Now, isn’t that fit to make the cat laugh?” She turns back to the Balsams and the darkness, leaving me to ponder that perverse little tale. She is singing again. “Oh, the stars will be falling . . . .”