Bonnie Kate: Christmas Day in the Morning

 

One late summer day in 2005, I was meandering through a local cemetery looking for inspiration for a topic in a local writing competition. Cemeteries are pretty reliable sources for quirky names, odd epitaphs, lonely souls, and the like. Not to mention just the isolation and quiet peace of the dead.

But these old Appalachian hills hold surprises. On the southern half of the Asbury Methodist Cemetery, I happened upon a small, heart-shaped tombstone. This is what it read:

Bonnie Kate Phillippi
Born Dec 25, 1905
Died Dec 25, 1905

This child was born – and died on Christmas day. Not only that, but there are six adjacent tombstones of children that all died within a few months of their birth and all the offspring of Dicie and J.L. Phillippi. This young couple had obviously had known heartbreak beyond anything I could comprehend.

And this girl – Bonnie ‘Happy‘ Kate – was their Christmas gift and tragedy. I had found the tombstone on the 100th anniversary of her birth and death.

Now, I don’t claim to be a poet. But I did my best. This is my tribute to this mountain family. This legacy. This Bonnie Kate.

On Christmas Day in the mornin’

Blackened skies close overhead

Young Dicie lay a weepin’

Her Bonnie Kate lay dead

Black waves upon her forehead

Bantam hands balled into fists

She lay upon the cupboard

The mountains straying mists

Touch upon the doorpost

And like a lion lean

It stopped her heart a beatin’

And closed her eyes of green

The wind blows down the hillside

And loves touch proves a thorn

My Bonnie Kate has died dear

Upon this Merry morn

Cold wind blows through the window

Dicie’s gasps of grief laid bare

Her heart of broken pieces

And God denies her prayer

The hole it ne’er be deep love

Nor long as a cradle bed

Loath she is to lay the body

With a heart that’s filled with dread

Dicie’s arms grasp the mountain side

Red hair falls down in tangled bands

This grave it will not hide

Dear, the love just in her hands

The wind blows down the hillside

And loves touch proves a thorn

My Bonnie Kate has died dear

Upon this Merry morn

One hundred years have passed her

Since that cold December dawn

God’s child rests in His arms now

Upon this Merry morn

Published in History
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 9 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    What a loving testimony. Thank you. 

    • #1
  2. PHCheese Member
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I had a both a brother and a sister stillborn. One before me and one after. If they were named my parents never said. Thanks for the post.

    • #2
  3. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I had a both a brother and a sister stillborn. One before me and one after. If they were named my parents never said. Thanks for the post.

    I had a cousin who was stillborn and one who died shortly after birth because of a heart defect (early ’50s in Appalachia was no time to be born with a bad heart). I never knew about either until last year, when I was doing family history stuff and visited the cemetery where my Dad’s family is buried. Another cousin filled me in on the brother she never knew.

    • #3
  4. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I might have mentioned before that my wife is into genealogy.  I used to go with her to visit family cemeteries in eastern North Carolina.  Sometimes you’d see a headstone with the names of four or five children on them.

    • #4
  5. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Not to be a wet blanket, but there is a lot of presumption here.  Do you know how these children died?   That many children shortly after birth could mean something quite terrible as well. 

    • #5
  6. Sam Thatcher
    Sam
    @Sam

    I doubt anything sinister was at hand. Women and children died all the time back in the day during or shortly after birth. They still do. It is a tragedy, but if you think about the physical process of gestation and birth, it is a miracle that any of us are here

    • #6
  7. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Sam (View Comment):

    I doubt anything sinister was at hand. Women and children died all the time back in the day during or shortly after birth. They still do. It is a tragedy, but if you think about the physical process of gestation and birth, it is a miracle that any of us are here

    In one way it’s a miracle, but in another, millions of years were spent perfecting the process.

    • #7
  8. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Sam (View Comment):

    I doubt anything sinister was at hand. Women and children died all the time back in the day during or shortly after birth. They still do. It is a tragedy, but if you think about the physical process of gestation and birth, it is a miracle that any of us are here

    In one way it’s a miracle, but in another, millions of years were spent perfecting the process.

    Well, the pre-modern stats suggest that it wasn’t perfected.  Merely “good enough” as long as the mothers who could have multiples, did.  At least five or so, based on the mortality rates for children and for other mothers in childbirth.

    We moderns have been extraordinarily blessed.

    • #8
  9. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    I know what you mean about cemeteries and names.  Close by my grandparents’ graves are a Frankenstein and a Rambo.

    But there are others too.  In about the same row, and about 10 headstones down, is the grave a young woman.  Her photo is embedded in the headstone.  Her grave is never left untended – not in the 40 years I’ve known the place.  One often finds fresh flowers and greenery.  I think she was 19 when she died about 1980.  Her parents must be quite elderly by now, but I never find her tomb unkempt.

    Not too far off is the headstone for an infant.  Some time ago, though, the visitors stopped coming by.

    • #9