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Crew tasked with keeping cemeteries neat, clean

While those who have passed away have gone on to their eternalresting place, there is a group of city workers whose sole purposeit is to keep their earthly graves neat and clean – even during thescorching Mississippi summer.

“It’s hot,” said Cemetery Crew Superintendent Hosmar Cameron ina understatement Thursday afternoon, when temperatures reachedabout 96 degrees.

Still, the summer cemetery crew of five continued their workleveling graves, picking up stray silk flowers, and trimming strayweeds and branches.

Cameron, who has worked for the city for about two decades, saidhe and his four men obviously have to mow and weedeat the 66 acresthat make up the city’s seven cemeteries more in the warm monthsthan when it cools down. The process of covering all the cemeteriestakes around a week and a half – depending on the weather – andthen they start over.

But in spite of the scorching weather and the manual labor, thecemetery crew has reasons they do what they do.

“It’s good being able to do things for people whose loved onesare here and they’ve moved off,” said Oren Witherspoon, who hasworked for the cemetery department for four and a half years.”Maintaining these graves for people and their families is the mostimportant part to me.”

Fellow worker Dontray Williams agreed, saying that there isalmost a special connection with the people they care for anyway,but especially the ones they’ve known in life.

“A lot of our family and friends are buried in thesecemeteries,” Williams said.

But there are still moments, based on the fact that the work isall in cemeteries, that routine things can feel a little eerie.Sometimes it’s routine.

“You’ll have a funeral, and then it rains, and the grave hassunk down a little,” Williams said. “And I used to look at them tosee, can you see the casket? But that’s why we’re here to level itout.”

Sometimes it’s not so routine.

“Up there where they put the Confederate guys from the CivilWar, if you’re alone there, you’ll hear something and turn aroundand you don’t see anybody,” said Witherspoon. “But it’s notanything you can understand. It’s like when you’re at a concert andyou hear people but what they’re saying is not something you canfigure out …”

And Williams said sometimes the fog will play tricks on him.

“I’ll be weedeating by myself, and the fog does funny things ina graveyard. Sometimes you’ll think you see things,” he said.

But in spite of the occasional goosebumps, the men said thereare a lot of good things about their jobs. Larry Ford is workingfor the cemetery department as temporary summer help, and he saidhe’s glad he did.

“I just thought it’d be something good to do,” he said. “Theseare a good group that I work with.”

Cameron said the company is good, and so is the environment.

“I just like the outside work,” he said. “I never liked beingtied down inside. I don’t like inside jobs. And I have some goodworkers.”

Witherspoon agreed that having a small but close group makes allthe difference in the world.

“We’ve all been here working together, and we know our dailytasks, so it doesn’t have to be about who’s going to do what,” hesaid. “We might be working and one of us might get too tired, andthe other ones are like, ‘Cuz, I got you.'”