Every sunday morning just past 9am, I'd arrive at the Longbranch Cemetery to mow the grounds. This morning though I would discover would be very different. For near a headstone which showed a child's face, I stopped to take a break. After a few moments, I crawled over to the headstone to rub off some of the moss and mold, to read the words. Her name was Martha, and she died on May 17, 1900 of small pox, a deadly disease back then. I didn't stay there much longer beyond saying softly, "I'm sure your mommy and daddy love and miss you very much"!
I went about my job, and by afternoon the grounds looked good as new! It was then that for no particular reason, I looked up towards Martha's grave near a tall oak tree. I was startled, as I saw a small child standing next to the headstone. She had beautiful long wavy blonde hair, and looked about seven years old. She wore a dress like the ones I saw on Little House On The Prairie TV series. She was looking down at the words I had read, then she turned and looked directly into my eyes. Her eyes looked so sad, that I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I was over come with a feleing of helplessness for her.
As she watched me walk slowly toward the wrought iron gate of the cemetery, she raised her tiny hand and shook her head no! In the time it took to blink tears away, she touched her headstone and vanished. I opened one side of the gate, and made my way back up the hill to her grave. When I reached her resting place...I kneeled down and whispered; "Why have you stayed behind, my little one"? I sat there on the cool green grass, as the wind blew fall leaves to the ground. Each leaf glistened as it was caught in the sun light, resembling angel's descending from heaven. My heart was heavy, realizing such a small child had passed away! She must be lost! She doesn't know what to do or where to go since she died.
"I wish, I wish, I wish, I cried, I wish I could have held her, and tried to comfort her. I wanted to show her she wasn't alone. She lingers in this cemetery, a place that doesn't offer her peace or comfort. Maybe she is waiting for her parents to come and take her home with them? I felt as helpless as she felt, but what could I do? As I began to stand, I touched her headstone softly and whispered, "I'll come back tomorrow Martha, with a surprise for you".
When I returned the next day, I wasn't alone. I had searched that afternoon from one second hand store, to another until I found what I had been looking for. I found a Raggedy Ann doll. It had been well cared for, probably kept in someone's hope chest. It was my hope that Martha had such a doll as this one. I had seen alot of western movies where a small child had a Raggedy Ann doll, just like this one! I couldn't think of any other gift that might bring some comfort to her. When I parked my truck in front of the cemetery the next day, I smiled. But by the time I had sat down next to martha's headstone there were tears once more in my eyes. But they were good tears.
Often times when a child has been hurt or is frightened, a stuffed animal is just what they need to hold! I propped up the doll against her headstone as I felt a smile come across my face. I spoke to Martha, as if she were there beside me. I talked about some of my childhood memories, times when I felt alone. Times when I cried. I told her that I had brought a friend. A friend who would love her and never leave her.
Someone she could talk to and play with, and that it was a gift from me. I stood up and leaned down and kissed her headstone softly, wiped my eyes and whispered, "Good-bye Martha"! I had almost reached my truck, when suddenly, I heard the sound of a child giggling. I turned quickly around and watched as Martha hugged her doll! I could have sworn there were tears in her eyes, as she smiled down at me and waved at me before she disappeared.
Several days later, I stopped at the small white country church, with a pastors house attached to the back side. I had never attended Pastor John's services because I lived in a near-by town. I felt very nervous about trying to find a way to explain to the Pastor what I had seen in his cemetery. But I was equally nervous about what his response would be! Would he even believe me? I stepped out of my truck and hesitated. I was about to get back into my truck and leave, when the front door of the church opened. He wasn't quite the Pastor I expected to see, dressed in bib overalls, with a paint can and brush in his hand. He sat them both down, smiled, and made his way down the church steps to greet me.
"My name is Pastor John my friend, welcome", and he shook my hand firmly. I could tell by his hand shake that he was no stranger to hard work. I told him my name was Raymond, and that his wife had hired me to mow the cemetery once a week. With a sparkle in his eyes, he nodded, and motioned for me to follow him. "I've got a pitcher of ice tea, raymond. By the warmth of the sun, I'd say we could both use a glass"; and he laughed. He spoke to me with gentleness, a man of wisdom. I followed behind him as we made our way through the small church and into his office. Pastor John poured two glasses and handed me one and I thanked him, as he motioned for me to take a chair. "I'm so glad to have your help Raymond, mowing the cemetery lawns just takes my breath away", he said with a smile.
His office was a plain and simple one, with a large painting of Jesus, hanging next to the window looking out at the cemetery. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about Pastor, there's a problem". He looked at me with concern, then curiousity, but remained silent. While I was working next door yesterday, well"... then he watched my eyes begin to water. His eyes grew wide with concern, and he began to speak. "You must have seen her too, the little girl, you saw my Martha"? Tears of relief flowed down my cheeks and his, as I nodded unable to speak.
Pastor John pulled a red checkered handkerchief from his back pocket and wipes his eyes. "Martha was six years old when she died of small pox, Raymond. Her mom and dad, and many neighbors left this area to escape the disease. I've got relatives buried in this cemetery Raymond. Martha isn't kin to me, but she is a lost soul! I have tried to speak to her, I have prayed for her. Still she lingers in our cemetery, and my spirit has suffered".
"I haven't told my wife about Martha, nor anyone else. I was beginning to think that I was the only one who could see her". When Pastor John was finished, he took a deep sigh. He looked like a huge weight had been taken off his shoulder's. I told him of my encounter with Martha and of the doll that I had brought to her. In a moment, he spoke. "God bless you Raymond"! We both were silent for a moment, perhaps lost in thought. Then, I asked him a question. "How can we guide Martha home to Jesus"?
2004 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)