This article appears in the May 2011 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
The casket was no bigger than a shoebox, what the funeral business calls a “preemie,” and before anybody else had arrived at the cemetery, two Metro Parks workers had used a rectangle of beaten-up plywood to keep an early-morning drizzle from dampening the shallow hole in the earth they’d dug with shovels. Blanched artificial flowers were stuffed into the tops of the metal poles lining the cemetery’s paved path, where a half-dozen vehicles started parking a little after 10 a.m. In the distance, beyond the barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence, industrial smokestacks at LG&E’s Cane Run power plant released bulging plumes of white smoke — cotton balls against a clearing pale-blue sky.
On that spring morning, a small congregation formed a semi-circle around the 13th grave in the sixth row of the infant section, the only part of River Valley Cemetery not at capacity. It was where they would buryJazmon Hannah Jr., whose premature birth had also been his death. The Jefferson County coroner’s office, at no cost to Jazmon’s family, provided the opportunity through its indigent burial program, overseen by a muscular 55-year-old named Buddy Dumeyer, a chief deputy coroner and former police officer whose career included 11 years on a Jefferson County SWAT team. As Dumeyer passed out the ceremony programs,Jazmon’s grandmother, Natalie Hannah, cradled and rubbed the casket, which a satiny white cloth encased. Hannah’s job at the Park DuValle Community Health Center had her wearing scrubs, and she pressed a clenched fist beneath her eyeglasses in an attempt to suppress the tears wetting her cheeks.
“I’m very happy that Natalie, the grandmother of this child, is here to be with us,” Dumeyer said, getting things under way. “It’s a wonderful day. We thank God for the sunshine.”
The campus minister at Assumption High School — one of a few area schools that has students conduct prayer services and serve as pallbearers for the poor — had driven seven young ladies to River Valley in a 12-passenger van. The students, seniors dressed in school-uniform maroon or plaid skirts, typically sing “Amazing Grace,” but after three Bible readings — including one by Hannah’s father, the Rev. HaroldHollins — they instead went with “Baby Mine” from the movie Dumbo. It was all over in 10 minutes, maybe less, and a purple-and-green foam cross adorned with lambs would serve as Jazmon’s headstone until something more permanent could replace it.