Buried in the Front Yard

front yard/grave yard

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.

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Memorial Park Cemetery

We haven’t had much snow in St. Louis this winter (not that I’m complaining) so when the snowflakes finally fell from the sky last week, I thought I’d visit a cemetery and take some pictures. Why not, right? So I stopped by Memorial Park Cemetery, which is located at 5200 Lucas and Hunt Rd. It’s a private, family owned cemetery that has been in operation since 1919. It’s right off Highway 70 but once you enter the gates, a peaceful serenity envelops you. It feels like you’re taking a quiet walk in the country.

The cemetery staff are very friendly and visitors can get a map from the office (Memorial Park has 165 acres of land so you can easily get lost). On their website they state that 50 acres are underdeveloped and “prime spaces are still available.” They even offer coupons. Really. Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took. Alas, most of the snow had melted but there was still some white stuff to be seen:

Perpetual Care Isn’t What You Think It Is

A lot of cemeteries offer perpetual care (sometimes known as endowed or permanent care) – in fact, some state regulations require it. However, the idea of perpetual care is often misunderstood and it’s important to know what is and is not covered when you purchase your lot. Or niche. Or crypt. Or mausoleum. There’ll be something to suit your needs no matter what you’re interested in!

Simply put, perpetual care funds are used for general maintenance and repair of cemetery grounds. For example, mowing and lawn care during the growing season would fall under perpetual care, as would upkeep of roads, paths and signage. Some cemeteries may use funds to repair fallen headstones or raise sunken grave markers but this is not common practice. The family is responsible for the headstone and for keeping the gravesite clean and neat. The family is also responsible for brightening up the lot (or niche, crypt, and mausoleum) with fresh/artificial flowers every so often. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see your decorations on the next visit though, since cemetery management has the right to remove said decorations if they are an impediment to their maintenance routine or don’t add to the overall attractiveness of the grounds (you know who you are…).

When I describe my services, a lot of people tell me that they have perpetual care and I always explain that perpetual care isn’t what they think it is. Maybe a picture can help illustrate this point. We cleaned the gravesite of a client’s loved one last summer a few days after the weekly mowing. This is what the grave marker looked like before:

Before

So the cemetery staff definitely mowed the grounds. Then the wind promptly blew the grass clippings all over the grave marker. After we applied some TLC though, the grave marker looked like this:

After

See what a difference some good old-fashioned cleaning can do? So while I agree most perpetual care cemeteries are beautifully maintained, I tell my customers that if they look closely, they’ll get a different view. I suppose some care is better than none. I just think a gravetender’s care is better than most.