My brother, Jimmy, and I found Mr. Walter F. Nutt not long ago. Our discovery came unexpectedly on the morning of July 6, 2017. We were doing some long-overdue maintenance at Wallace Cemetery, a small and seldom visited place not far from where we grew up. Beneath several inches of vines, limbs, and oak leaves, we found Walter Nutt’s grave.
His granite slab shows that he was born February 6, 1886, and died at the young age of 32 on January 1, 1919. His death came long before my birth, but his name seemed vaguely familiar, as if there was something more that I knew about him but could not recall. His marker is inscribed, Gone but not forgotten. My unspoken thought was that a more accurate line would now simply state Gone.
Jimmy and I soon left for dinner, knowing Mama’s homemade biscuits were almost ready. Mr. Junior Sparrow called to tell me that he had enjoyed a recent article written by Ed Grisamore in The Macon Telegraph. It was about a patriotic poem that I wrote a long time ago titled What America Is.
Mr. Junior has done an excellent job maintaining the grounds of nearby Williams Cemetery. It’s the place where his parents and a lot of his mother’s family are buried. It’s rare to find a small country graveyard so well taken care of. I told him that Jimmy and I had been working at Wallace Cemetery, and that we hoped to one day have it back in respectable shape.
Mr. Junior mentioned Walter Nutt, noting that he was buried near the giant oak, a tree that was already massive in my childhood 65 years ago. He told me that Walter Nutt married his aunt, Nora Williams, a sister to Mr. Junior’s mother, Odessa Clyde Williams Sparrow. After the wedding, Nora went by separate means to their new home. Walter was not far behind, driving a horse drawn wagon. A half mile from Wallace Cemetery, on a hill near Cedar Creek, the wagon wheels abruptly stuck in some flint rock. Walter Nutt fell between the horse and wagon. He died on his and Nora’s wedding day.
I have some family members buried at Wallace, including my great grandparents and great-great grandparents on the Joiner side. Several other families once buried their loved ones there, but that was years ago. Their close relatives have mostly died or moved elsewhere. Daddy and Uncle Murray took care of the grounds as far back as I can remember. Jimmy and I have been rather sporadic in our efforts.
It was probably on a visit to the cemetery with Daddy and Uncle Murray that I first heard the story of Walter Nutt. That’s why I think his name had a hint of familiarity.
On October 30th, I went to Williams Cemetery, then later visited with Mr. Junior Sparrow. I learned that Nora Williams Nutt married again after her husband’s untimely death. Her second marriage was to Dr. Burrell B. Wilson, a veterinarian. She and Dr. Wilson are buried in Williams Cemetery with a small marker between them. Nora died in childbirth in 1925, at the age of 31. Her child died also and was buried beside her. I was surprised that Walter Nutt’s tragic death was only part of the story. The somber events of Nora Williams’ life seem an unfair burden for one family to bear. Some things we’re not yet meant to understand, but can only trust that one day we’ll see clearly.
Hurricane Irma passed our way as a tropical storm on September 11, 2017. It toppled the ancient oak at Wallace Cemetery, barely missing Walter Nutt’s grave. Jimmy and I began slowly clearing some limbs and leaves. Thanks to the Finn Cross family, the huge fallen oak has recently been removed from the graveyard.
Someday Walter Nutt’s grave will probably be lost again to time and vines and the absence of anyone looking for it. But I realize now that its inscription, Gone but not forgotten, will still be true for what’s most important. Finding his slab, and learning about his life, helped remind me that the condition of our graves is far less important than the condition of our souls. Taking care of one is worthwhile. Taking care of the other is critical.
Finding Walter Nutt led me to a rather intriguing story of love and tragedy that seems worth preserving a while longer. If you look for his grave, it’s on the north side of Wallace Cemetery. You might want to take a hoe or a rake with you. There’s still plenty that needs to be done.
I thought for a while that our work at Wallace Cemetery was a way of helping others. But I’ve found out that it’s mostly something we can do for ourselves.