April 11, 1957
This Article Appeared In The Times
But Was Not Actually Titled Calís Column
Transcribed by Janette West Grimes
April 6, 1904
†† Fifty-three years ago the writer saw his first dead person. The dead person was little George Campbell, aged about two and a half years. He was the son of our aunt, Melissa Gregory, and her husband, Richard Monroe Campbell, commonly known as Dick Campbell. The family lived only about 400 yards from our childhood home. There had at that time never been a death in our own family. All the ten sons and daughters of our father and mother were living, and our parents were in excellent health. Death for our own family seemed far off. But our own little cousin was dead and never in life had we seen a person who had met the enemy that we call death.
†† Our own little cousin had been sickly all his life. We still recall, after more than half a century, how our aunt and uncle had spoken of their little boy as being more "gaily" than common. When he grew worse in the early spring of 1904, death came at the end of a few days of suffering. So on that spring morning more than half a century ago little George was dead. Our father's youngest sister and she was a favorite of ours sent word for us nephews and nieces to come see "her little boy," we could see no way of avoiding a painful duty. So our sisters, to the number of four or five and the writer left our little home and made our way sorrowfully to the home over which the angel of death hovered and entered the stricken place. Our recollection is that the writer, being the oldest of his father's children had to take the lead. We entered the house of death with bated breath hardly daring to breathe or to make scarcely any noise. We entered the house which still stands and in whose lower and front room the dead child lay. Before we had gotten into the house, we heard the fearful words of a heartbroken mother, who wailed: "O my baby, O, my baby." If there had been a chance to leave we would have gone away. But no opportunity of escape presented itself and half a dozen wide-eyed, but fearful children stood in the presence of death and gazed for their very first time on the workings of that dreadful enemy, called death. Little George lay in a little cradle in which he had slept many times during his brief life. He was very pale and was as still as death itself. Our poor aunt sat by the little cradle, wringing her hands in agony while the words we had heard as we approached the house still fell from her lips. As long as we shall live, we guess the words, "O my baby, O my baby," will ring in our ears. She took time to speak to each of us as she continued to wring her hands in helpless agony and grief. We stayed perhaps five minutes and how long it did seem. We all managed to hold back our own grief till we were leaving the home where death held sway. Then part of our sisters, broke down and began to weep with a rather loud voice and we are of the opinion that our sisters were not the only broken-hearted children there that day.
†† The horrors of death, the awfulness of being in the presence of his destructive works and the terrible ravages of his power made an impression on our childish mind that has not been erased after more than half a hundred years. We can still see in our little mind the terrible picture of a mother, who was wringing her hands in helplessness and sorrow, one who was destined to never recover from the blow of death and little George so still and quiet in the thrall of death. How terrible it was for his mother and father for all who had known him in his brief life and specially how gloomy was the situation for a group of children who had never before seen the terrible workings of the age-old enemy of man, of all happiness, all pleasure and the enemy that lurked near each of us. How well do we remember the very first time we ever heard that all must die and that our portion sooner or later was to fall before the reaper we call death. We still remember September 14, 1901, when the writer was just ten years of age and the papers were carrying many reports of the death of President William McKinley at the hands of Leon Czolgosz. We read in the papers about how the dying president, a good Christian man, begged his doctors, "to let me die." We had no idea then how one could ask for death, for its horrors were only too evident to us. Since the day more than 52 years ago, we have looked upon perhaps 4,000 lifeless forms, forms of men, women and children of nearly every sort of station in life among the common people. We have since that time seen our dead mother, Marietta Ballou Gregory, who passed away on Nov. 24, 1912; our father, Thomas M. Gregory, who left his 10 children on the morning of Nov. 19, 1915, the wife of our youth, who bade us goodbye on June 26, 1926; another wife, who left us on the morning of November 10, 1928 and took our new born son, who had lived only 11 hours, with her, and our own pathway grew dark with grief and sorrow as deep as we have ever known from a human standpoint.
†† We went with our father and other relatives to the burial of little George late in the afternoon of April 6, 1904. He was the first person laid to rest in that little cemetery that is now known as the Gregory family graveyard. To the east of this burial place rises a huge hill. To the north one looks down the valley. To the south is a low hill on which we often worked in the days gone by. Just above the burial place our father and his brothers burned a plant bed for tobacco plants some time before the starting of the little cemetery. It had been a rather happy place for our games before the burial of little George. We had often gathered haws from the black haw tree that still stands near the head of the grave of the first inmate of that little country burial place. But it became to your writer a dreadful place, to be avoided as far as possible and never again was a happy play ground that it had been. We feel quite sure that there will be no joy there till that morning when the dead in Christ shall rise and come from their graves triumphant over death and all its powers.
†† Today we look back over many years of life and many scenes of sorrow, grief and bereavement. We are well aware that this life with no other to look forward to after death, ends in death and sorrow for those left behind. We were then without hope in the world and death seemed so terrible, so hopeless and so inescapable. Today we thank God for having saved us in the years gone by and for the hope that we shall live again in a happier, better and more wonderful world. Could we have been able to look down the corridors of time and see our own self standing by so many caskets and trying to speak words of comfort to the bereaved on so many, many occasions, we would have surely been disposed to have given up and said we could not be that often thrown into the presence of both the living and the dead. During the past 40 years we have tried to hold or help to hold more than 3,000 funerals. Surely we would not have chosen a life in which we were to stand, as it were, between the dead and the living. But it is a wonderful thing that we cannot see what the future of life here on the earth holds for each of us. If we had known that on that April day 53 years ago we would be called on to hold hundreds and hundreds of funerals in the coming years, our adult years, we would have given up in despair and in dread because we could not bear the terrible thoughts of death.
†† To us death is no longer the horror and dread of the years gone by. No more do we almost tremble as we see the mighty power of death or of what death has already wrought, among those we have known and those we have lost. We know that our friends are not here as in other years. We know that we no longer see them as we did in other days. We do not hear their laughter as in the days of yore. We no longer see their smiling faces as in other years. We have seen many die, most of them triumphant in the very face of death and somehow we are not afraid. We went with some of them just as far as we could and then turned back with a sorrow unspeakable and a loneliness that can only be felt by the broken-hearted.
†† We are to live again in a better and fairer land is the promise of Him who has died for us. There is no escape from death and the way to the better and fuller life is the way that leads down to death. Thank God for the hope that does not die, for the prospects that grow brighter and over which the gloomy shadows of death never come.