published Friday, July 4th, 2014

Cook: Blessed Cofer, cursed cooties

Damaged grave markers are seen at Cofer Cemetery, where Hamilton County's indigent burials take place. The cemetery is located just off Jenkins Road near I-75 North.
Damaged grave markers are seen at Cofer Cemetery, where Hamilton County's indigent burials take place. The cemetery is located just off Jenkins Road near I-75 North.
Photo by John Rawlston.
  • photo
    Repairs have been made to grave markers in the newest section of the Cofer Cemetery in East Brainerd, used for decades by Hamilton County for indigent burials. Dirt has been added over many of the graves, and new grass has been planted.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

Nine weeks ago, Brother Ron Fender and I drove out to Ruth Cofer Cemetery, the 42-acre plot off Jenkins Road where our county buries its poor and homeless.

What we saw there shocked us.

Gravestones were overturned or missing altogether. The stones — concrete blocks usually buried several inches in the ground, with metal nameplates attached to the top — were casually and crookedly tossed aside, the way you would a yard toy. One was turned face-down.

Nameplates were damaged and ripped in two, like they’d been chewed up by some grim mower blade.

(A column and photos published on May 11 describe this in detail.)

“The way we treat that cemetery says a lot about us as a people,” Fender said.

Later that day, I called the Hamilton County Maintenance Department, then Parks and Recreation, looking for answers. I finally spoke with Mike Compton, the chief of staff for Mayor Jim Coppinger.

“I take full responsibility,” he said. “We’re screwing it up and we’re going to fix it.”

That was in May. Two weeks ago, Fender and I returned to Cofer.

Again, we were shocked.

“Oh my,” Fender said.

He looked around. Walked among the graves. Couldn’t believe what he saw.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” he said.

The once-damaged cemetery has been gracefully restored.

All the damaged headstones have been replaced, each dug properly and evenly into the ground. Scarred nameplates have been replaced with shiny ones. Fresh grass is growing where there was once red dirt and mud.

“It’s amazing,” Fender said.

Know what else is amazing? The county government’s response during this. As soon as he learned of the damage, Compton took 100 percent responsibility. He was no-nonsense honest and refreshingly responsive; county workers immediately began treating Cofer like the Queen Mum was coming to visit.

“If we’re not doing it right, tell me,” he’d call and say.

It gets better. Short on land at Cofer, the county had begun cremating instead of burying, yet had not created a central location for storing the urns.

Until now.

“We’re going to build a columbarium,” Compton said.

Located at Cofer, the columbarium — like a sacred vault — will be able to store between 100 and 150 urns, each able to be claimed by family members at any point in the future.

It should be completed this fall, Compton said.

“Our guys are kind of excited about it,” he said.

They should be.

They’ve just resurrected a cemetery.

•••

Throughout Wednesday night’s debate for the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary, challenger Weston Wamp criticized the politics of incumbent Rep. Chuck Fleischmann as divisively partisan and isolationist, as if Democrats are a contagious disease.

“Where we don’t agree is that Democrats have cooties and you can’t talk to them and there can’t be civil discourse in this country,” Wamp said. “Because that’s part of the problem.”

Well, I don’t have cooties.

(And I didn’t have them back in third grade either, Mary Kate Smithers!)

As silly as it sounds, cootie politics is a great way to describe the juvenile dysfunction of partisan politics. It’s like we’ve become political inbreds, associating only with our own, mating our ideas only with those who agree with us.

All night, Wamp emphasized his open-minded position: The rebuilding of America happens through discourse and common-ground politics.

“It is so recklessly irresponsible … if we bicker and point fingers,” Wamp said.

You’d think he was reading Marx and spitting on Reagan’s grave. Fleischmann seemed incredulous at such notions. Right after Wamp’s cootie comment, the congressman responded.

“They’ve got a lot worse than that,” he said.

Like what? Herpes? A bad toenail fungus?

How preposterous. How vain. It is one thing to stand firm in one’s convictions, yet another entirely to refuse to entertain the possibility that maybe, just maybe, somebody else besides yourself may have a solution, too.

For some, we call this narcissism.

For Fleischmann, it’s elect-me campaign talk.

Cootie politics is about to push us over the edge. The worst problem we face is not (insert your own Worst Problem here) but the way we can no longer stand to talk to one another.

The recent death of Howard Baker was not only physical, but symbolic as well: the death of reconciliatory politics.

During the debate, it became very clear which candidate wanted to revive them.

•••

Happy Fourth, everybody.

Enjoy the freedom.

And drive safely.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
zulalily said...

Neither Wamp nor Chuck deserves our votes!

July 4, 2014 at 4:31 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

That was not a debate. it was not even a very interesting chat. Debates have rules, timekeepers, judges, and participants who know how to speak and to be civil. "Cootie" Wamp did nothing but pose. Stay tuned, you'll see a lot of that. Did he really need the support of that giggling gaggle of high school hi-jinxers so well placed just behind him? Obvioussly he needs all the support daddy can muster. Good luck, Chuck. You have my vote. You still have to toy with Cootie, his dad and his machine, the dummycrats and the TFP.

July 4, 2014 at 6:52 p.m.
aae1049 said...

People that claim they want R's and D's all getting along are forgetting that our country is based upon political discourse, which keeps healthy debate on issues. I would never want appeasement from the left or right, or followers, that would be toxic. Wamps cootie comments are absurd.

July 5, 2014 at 12:57 a.m.
ORRMEANSLIGHT said...

+++WE PREACH JESUS CHRIST CRUCIFIED+++

A single proclamation that this land belongs to Jesus Christ! The Cross representing the blood shed by our Lord Jesus Christ was planted in the soil of Cape Henry.

Even before that, upon landing on the First Permanent American Settlement soil, the Pioneers PRAYED and GAVE THANKS TO YHVH!

Malleus Deum

July 6, 2014 at 7:50 p.m.
ORRMEANSLIGHT said...

Text of Mayflower Compact:

"In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc..."

+++WE PREACH JESUS CHRIST CRUCIFIED+++

"Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic,..."

Malleus Deum

July 6, 2014 at 7:52 p.m.
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