Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Since providence has led us to this place..."

Normally I would avoid exploring a cemetery at high noon in August. Not only is it often too hot and the sun too strong, but it is not the best light for taking photos.  However, yesterday our neighbors across the street began to re-cement their  driveway and jackhammers commenced ripping through the old cement at 8:00 a.m. I live in what is usually a quiet neighborhood, but the past few days, between that jackhammer and the constant loud popping of a nail gun from another neighbor’s roofing project, the suburban racket was really getting on my nerves. So I slathered myself in sunscreen, filled up my water bottle, grabbed my camera and a notebook and drove to Providence Pioneer Cemetery in Scio, Oregon about 30 miles southeast of Salem. I knew I would most likely find some peace and quiet there.

After unusually cool temperatures in June and July summer finally arrived here in the mid-Willamette Valley. Evidence of this was all over the cemetery.The grass was crisp and brown and the mounds of earth from dozens of gopher holes were baked dry. 

Joab Powell established the church and cemetery on this hill in April of 1853. Powell was a Baptist preacher who had arrived in Oregon from Missouri in 1850 determined to save as many souls as possible from eternal damnation. Like many Oregon pioneers he took a 640 acre donation land claim to farm, part of which included the hill where the church and cemetery now stand. The original church building was made of logs but the white clapboard structure one sees today was built in 1893. When Joab and the 19 other original charter members of the church were deciding on a name for their new congregation Powell is reported as saying, Since Providence has led us to this place and prospered us in the forming of a church, why not call it Providence Baptist Church?” And so it was.

Joab Powell and his wife, Ann, are buried in the cemetery as are many of their descendants, and, as is usual for that time period, there are many graves for children.

 A. T. Powell and A. E Powell, the son and daughter-in-law of Joab Powell, lost several children.

Orta Custer Powell was just one week shy of his eighth birthday when he died.
Coray was only three. And Baby Arthur it seems didn't live long enough to warrant an age on his headstone. In looking closely at the death date of A. E. Powell, the children's mother, I noticed she died in 1876 not long after Baby Arthur. Perhaps she never recovered physically or emotionally from her loss.

These two toddlers died two days apart. The bottom of the headstone reads, "Here lies the two first born babes of S.M. and S. Davidson. 

I came across a quote recently, attributed to the famous rabbi Baal Shem Tov, that read, "When the bond between heaven and earth is broken, only a story can mend it." I kept thinking about this quote as I walked between the rows squinting at the eroded headstones. And I was so grateful that I could contemplate such wisdom with only the sounds of a rooster crowing in the distance, the buzzing of a thousand summer insects and the occasional gust of hot wind through a nearby grove of Douglas Firs.

Freeman, Olga Samuelson, "A Guide to Early Oregon Churches," Eugene, Oregon, 1976.

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