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James Davis, 73, stands over the grave of his wife, Patsy, in the front yard of the home they shared in Stevenson, Ala.

Man fights for wife’s front-yard grave

– James Davis is fighting to keep the remains of his late wife right where he dug her grave: In the front yard of his home, just a few feet from the porch.

Davis said he was only abiding by Patsy Ruth Davis’ wishes when he buried her outside their log home in 2009, yet the city sued to move the body elsewhere. A county judge ordered Davis to disinter his wife, but the ruling is on hold as the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals considers his challenge.

Davis, 73, said he never expected such a fight.

“Good Lord, they’ve raised pigs in their yard, there’s horses out the road here in a corral in the city limits, they’ve got other grave sites here all over the place,” Davis said. “And there shouldn’t have been a problem.”

While state health officials say family burial plots aren’t uncommon in Alabama, city officials worry about the precedent set by allowing a grave on a residential lot on a main street through town. They say state law gives the city some control over where people bury their loved ones and have cited concerns about long-term care, appearance, property values and the complaints of neighbors.

“We’re not in the 1800s any longer,” said city attorney Parker Edmiston. “We’re not talking about a homestead, we’re not talking about someone who is out in the country on 40 acres of land. Mr. Davis lives in downtown Stevenson.”

A strong libertarian streak runs through northeast Alabama, which has relatively few zoning laws to govern what people do with their property. Even a neighbor who got into a fight with Davis over the grave site isn’t comfortable with limiting what a homeowner can do with his property.

“I don’t think it’s right, but it’s not my place to tell him he can’t do it,” said George W. Westmoreland, 79, who served three tours in Vietnam. “I laid my life on the line so he would have the right to do this. This is what freedom is about.”

Davis has protested by running for City Council. A campaign sign hangs near a bigger sign in his yard that says: “Let Patsy Rest in Peace.”

Davis built the family’s home on a corner on Broad Street about 30 years ago in Stevenson, a town of about 2,600.

Davis and Patsy were married for 48 years, but she spent most of her final days bedridden with arthritis. Seated on a bench beside her headstone and flower-covered grave, Davis said he and his wife planned to have their bodies cremated until she revealed she was terrified by the thought.

“She said this is where she wanted to be and could she be put here, and I told her, ‘Yeah,’ ” Davis said. “I didn’t think there’d be any problem.”

Davis said he and a son-in-law used a backhoe to dig the grave. A mortuary installed a concrete vault, and workers lowered Patsy’s body into the plot in a nice, metal casket.

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