True story. . . .
I was visiting back home. The year
was 19__ and the month was May. My mother wanted to go to the cemetery so she
could check on some new plantings she had put in last fall. My father is buried
there along with two of his children. My older brother, the first born, drowned.
My younger sister died from an infection when she was still an infant.
There is room in the plot for my mother, myself and my three sisters,
should we choose to do so. I am firmly committed to cremation, so I don't figure
to be taking up any space. My mother isn't happy about that, but she has come to
terms with it. She did ask me for a portion of my ashes so she could have them
at the family plot. I figure, what the hell, I won't be in any position to
object one way or the other, so I had no trouble agreeing to her request.
So anyway, we finished what we needed to do, and we just started walking
around the cemetery, looking at the headstones. The cemetery is divided into an
old part and a new part. Our plot is located in the older section, where the
headstones go back into the 1800's. My mother knew just about every family name
and gave me a running history of their fortunes and follies as we ambled past
Eventually, we wandered over to the new section, which
is closer to the road, definitely a less desirable location. The grave sites had
a rawness to them. There hadn't been time for weathering to soften the edges or
dull the bright colors of the polished granite.
The chiseled letters of
each name still stood out clear and crisp, not yet smoothed by the centuries of
winters and nor' easters to come. Lichen had not yet had time to mottle the
granite with the gray green concentric circles that would soon start spreading
inexorably across the face of the rock, obscuring the names. Soon enough the
wind and rain would eat slowly away at the stone like the cancer that doubtless
brought many of the current residents to this, their final resting place. But
for now, the flowers were still fresh, the earth not yet settled.
were walking back to our car when I saw a couple off in the distance. I couldn't
make them out but I could tell the man was much younger than the woman. As we
got closer to where we were parked, I was surprised to hear my name called out.
Turning to look, I saw that the couple were people I knew. It was David W. and
David and I had been next door neighbors until I moved away
when I was 12 years old. He was the bold one, the first to smoke, the first to
drink, the first to learn about girls. We went our separate ways after high
school. I would see him from time to time when I came back home for visits. He
had been married a couple of times that I knew of and had kids somewhere,
although I wasn't sure how many.
Standing there talking to David and his
mother, I couldn't help noticing his fingernails. They were black and brittle
and curling. I remember thinking at the time that I had read somewhere that
doctors could tell a great deal about your health just from examining your
fingernails. I wondered what a doctor would have made of David's.
asked if he and his mother had come by to visit his father's grave. No. They
wouldn't drive across the street to visit the old bastard. I remembered that his
father had been a drinker. My older sister told me that David's younger brothers
had it pretty rough. So nobody was too broken up when he finally died.
Somehow we got to talking about what kind of funeral we wanted, and I
stated my preference for cremation. David also wanted to be cremated. He loved
the ocean and that is where he wanted his ashes scattered. Personally, I shudder
at the idea of being buried at sea. I want to stay connected with the land. Get
back into production right away. Maybe end up in a tree limb or as part of a
The ocean was endless and dark and empty. Not my kind of
place. But that is what David wanted.
We talked a little more and then
said our good-byes. I asked my mother on the way home, what are the odds of me
being home for a couple of days, of us going to the cemetery and me running in
to my old boyhood friend David.
A couple of weeks later my mother called
me. She told me that David had died. Liver cancer. I thought about those black
fingernails. My mother and I were both a little freaked out by the whole thing.
I have come to believe that David and I were given a last chance to
talk, to say good-bye, standing there amidst those tombstones. Call it
coincidence if that makes you feel more comfortable. I think of it as just one
more sign that there is a benevolence at work and that once in a while it
arranges for us special moments of grace, moments that are meant just for us. I
can live with that.