County woman honors her mother, grandmother with new headstones after more than 40 years
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 15, 2009 2:00 AM
George Kornegay, left, sits with his 82-year-old mother, Jessie, next to the graves of her grandmother, Maggie M. Wynn Stroud, and mother Essie Bowden. Until recently, it had been nearly 50 years since they last visited the former Lightner Cemetery in Mar-Mac. On Friday they honored their relatives with new headstones.
Jessie Kornegay was not stirred by the cool breeze breaking against her as she sat in the shade in front of the graves of her mother and grandmother Friday afternoon.
The sight of overgrown brush and sunken headstones that surround them in the former Lightner Cemetery did not make her want to leave -- or cry.
The 82-year-old was exactly where she wanted to be.
So she sat there next to them for an hour or more in a weatherworn lawn chair, with her son, George, and some family friends.
And she gave her departed loved ones a gift -- new headstones that, until recently, would not have been possible.
Until last year, it had been decades since the Kornegay's last visited the gravesite.
The cemetery had been closed and blocked off shortly after the last funeral they attended there -- in 1965 -- and through the years had been ravaged by the floods that came with hurricanes and neglected by overburdened county workers.
"It was almost forgotten," George said.
But thanks to Evelyn Shepard, a relative of others buried there, it wasn't.
After years of contemplating a visit to her brother's grave -- one of many sons of Wayne lost in World War II -- in April 2007 she finally worked up the courage to take that trip.
She was joined by friend Yvonne Stanley, and since that visit -- with the county's blessing -- the two have worked to clean up the grounds, identify who is buried there and raise awareness about the existence of the place most only catch a glimpse of on their way to Busco Beach.
George and Jessie are among those thankful for their efforts.
George can still remember the day he and his relatives buried his great-grandmother, Maggie M. Wynn Stroud.
And he "won't ever forget" when hundreds turned out to lay his grandmother, Essie Bowden, to rest.
It was Nov. 20, 1957, and he was "just a boy."
"She was the one, in our family, that was our backbone," George said. "She was our chief means of survival."
In her younger years, Mrs. Bowden worked as a cook in several downtown diners before joining the Goldsboro High School kitchen staff to help support her children and grandchildren while her sharecropper husband worked in the fields.
But her daughter remembers the woman who "loved everybody."
"She never met a stranger," Jessie said. "She was just an amazing woman."
So was her grandmother.
"She tended to me from the time I was born," Mary said of the woman who outlived her mother and died in 1965. "So I tended to her when she went."
The wind is still blowing, but while some walk in between the rusted metal markers and worn headstones to see who else is buried in the former Lightner Cemetery, Jessie and George are still with those they lost nearly a half-century ago.
"It means a whole lot," Jessie said. "I didn't think I would ever walk out here again."
It didn't seem to matter that the new headstone placed for her grandmother might not be in the spot it should.
"Mama's right here so that means that's my grandmamma over there," she had said earlier when a crew from Johnson Monument Co. placed the stone, pointing to a patch of grass in the middle of a pile of leaves next to her mother's plot.
Or that the cemetery was once forgotten, that some who have kin buried there still haven't walked among them.
The time they spent there was simply right.
"I (feel like they are with us)," Jessie said. "I really do."
-- Staff Writer Phyllis Moore contributed to the report.
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