Is it OK to bury your loved ones in the front yard? If you live in Stevenson, AL, probably not:
James Davis is fighting to keep the remains of his late wife right where he dug her grave: In the front yard of his home, just a few feet from the porch.
Davis said he was only abiding by Patsy Ruth Davis’ wishes when he buried her outside their log home in 2009, yet the city sued to move the body elsewhere. A county judge ordered Davis to disinter his wife, but the ruling is on hold as the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals considers his challenge. Davis, 73, said he never expected such a fight.
“Good Lord, they’ve raised pigs in their yard, there’s horses out the road here in a corral in the city limits, they’ve got other gravesites here all over the place,” said Davis. “And there shouldn’t have been a problem.”
While state health officials say family burial plots aren’t uncommon in Alabama, city officials worry about the precedent set by allowing a grave on a residential lot on one of the main streets through town. They say state law gives the city some control over where people bury their loved ones and have cited concerns about long-term care, appearance, property values and the complaints of some neighbors.
“We’re not in the 1800s any longer,” said city attorney Parker Edmiston. “We’re not talking about a homestead, we’re not talking about someone who is out in the country on 40 acres of land. Mr. Davis lives in downtown Stevenson.”
A strong libertarian streak runs through northeast Alabama, which has relatively few zoning laws to govern what people do with their property. Even a neighbor who got into a fight with Davis over the gravesite — Davis said he punched the man — isn’t comfortable with limiting what a homeowner can do with his property.
“I don’t think it’s right, but it’s not my place to tell him he can’t do it,” said George W. Westmoreland, 79, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. “I laid my life on the line so he would have the right to do this. This is what freedom is about.”
Westmoreland declined to discuss his specific objections to the grave.
It’s unclear when the appeals court might rule. Attorneys filed initial papers in the appeal on Friday. The decision could come down to whether the judges believe the front-yard grave constitutes a family plot that requires no approval or a cemetery, which would.
As it is, Davis said his five children will bury him in the yard beside Patsy after he dies, and they and his 15 grandchildren will care for the property from then on.
“That’s my perpetual care,” said Davis, referring to the city’s worry about what the grave will look like after he dies.
Davis is adamant that he won’t move the body, regardless of what any court says.
“If they get it done it’ll be after I’m gone,” said Davis. “So if they order her to be moved, it’s a death sentence to me. I’ll meet Mama sooner than I planned on it.”
Now that’s called standing your ground.