Originally created 12/17/00

Luminaria light way to past



GRANITEVILLE - W.C. Moxley loved dumplings and dressing for Christmas dinner, and his wife, Bessie, always included his favorites, bustling in the kitchen with eight children asking every few minutes when it would all be done.

They'd be home for the holiday if they could, said their daughter Paulette Moxley, standing by her parents' graves Saturday at Sunset Memory Gardens. Above each marker, a tiny Christmas tree twinkled with white lights, and below the bronze plaques were luminaria, white paper bags with candles inside that gave a muted glow.

By dark, hundreds of the flames glowed on the hillsides, where tombstones were touchstones for families sharing Christmas with those who, like the Moxleys, would be here if they could. The ceremony, repeated at many cemeteries in the South this time of year, is a tradition at Sunset Memory Gardens, where nearly 5,000 people are buried.

Workers began placing the white bags, weighted with sand, at each marker Saturday afternoon. By 5 p.m., the streets were lined with parked cars as families made familiar ways to graves of those they loved.

"It's one way to feel close, said Barry Hughes of Bath, whose mother and stepfather, Esther and Charles Cantrell, are buried there. So is a niece, Sheryl Wood, slain with three other people in a workplace shooting spree at R.E. Phelon Co. three years ago.

"It brings back so many memories, just being here," said Mr. Hughes, who will hold a similar vigil Monday at Piney Grove by the grave of his wife, Sarah, who died five months ago.

Laura Jean Moxley also lighted a candle in another cemetery this Christmas. It was for her husband, buried at Aiken Memorial Cemetery, which held its candlelighting last week.

Michael Lanier Moxley died April 1, 1999, one day after his mother's death, Ms. Moxley said. The other seven children of Mr. and Mrs. Moxley are living, his sister said.

Sunset Memory Gardens follows the modern practice of using flat markers instead of granite stones. They don't say much about the people whose remains lie beneath them. But Paulette Moxley said the memories are what matter.

His marker might not say so, but Mr. Moxley worked hard all his life, as a farmer and as a factory worker at Clearwater Finishing Plant. He had a convenience store on Projects Road at Graniteville, and he did landscaping.

"Sometimes he had two or three jobs," his daughter said. "The last 10 years he lived he had a pacemaker, but he didn't stop working, and the day before he went to the hospital in 1991, he was building a house."

Mrs. Moxley, she said, took care of the children.

"We couldn't have a big Christmas," Ms. Moxley said. "But we always had a big meal, and we enjoyed being together."

The memory of time together on Christmases past is part of what makes the candlelighting tradition special, said Tammie Phelps, the cemetery's family services director.

"We always have a lot of people come back," she said.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.