Where the Poor People Were Buried


My Grandpa was in the hospital.  He was real sick, coughing up blood and phlegm. They let my Grandma in to see him, but I wasn’t allowed.  I sat quietly, like a good girl, in the waiting room right next door to where he was.  I listened to him cough and heave.  I listened to my Grandma cry. After a long time, she came out wiping her eyes under her glasses with a tissue.

 “We’ll come back again tomorrow morning,” she said.

We got in the car and left.  Grandma’s eyes were red and she just drove, not saying anything.  I watched as a boy on a bicycle, a lady pushing a baby stroller and an old man walking a dog passed by. We headed up the mountain.

We went to the family cemetery a lot.  We visited the dead more than we visited anyone living. Our family cemetery was a pretty place, at the top of a winding road on Monticello Mountain. The tall black iron gates were never locked when we got there and it seemed like not many people other than us visited. Our car always sat alone, parked under a Cedar Tree near where my uncles and sister were buried.

 We were up high and could look over into town and see the tall steeple of the Baptist church, the red Texaco Star at the gas station and the hospital where everyone went to die. I wondered if when our relatives were still living, they could see the cemetery out of their hospital rooms, if my uncles pointed out the window and said, “I want that spot right there under the shade tree,” or if my baby sister said, “put me right there near that statue  of the angel.”  I wondered if Grandpa was looking at us now.  I waved to him, wanting to let him know we were here, wanting him to feel less lonely.

Monticello Memorial Gardens was kind of like a park, but without the swings, slides and duck pond.  Flowers sprouted up from all over the ground, some were real and some never died, blooming in February when snow was on the ground.  We walked carefully at the bottoms of the graves so we didn’t disturb the ghosts that were sleeping under the ground.  Sometimes the trees dropped dry, brittle sticks onto the grass rectangles covering our relatives.  We picked up what the tree shed and threw it over the fence.  I wasn’t allowed to run in the cemetery,  pick the flowers, or talk too loud.

 Grandma got out of the car and I followed her.  She didn’t bring flowers like usual. She only had her pocketbook on her arm, and the balled up tissue in her hand.  We stopped at the foot of my Uncle’s graves, her sons, her only boys.  She stood there a long time, just looking at their headstones. She twisted and twisted the tissue in her hand like she was trying to wring the tears out of it. 

 She looked up at the sky and asked, “Why Lord? What did I ever do to have them taken from me? And now this, why?” 
I held my breath, waiting, but the Lord didn’t answer.  Grandma  turned around and walked back to the car. I trailed along behind her. We forgot to visit my sister’s grave.
We didn’t leave town to go home either,  like I thought we would.  Grandma drove to the foot of the mountain, past some stores and houses. We stopped at a small square brick building with a flat roof. It had Hartman Memorials carved into a strip of concrete across the front, above the door.  I thought it looked like a sad little house, parked in the middle of tall gravestones. Its front yard was covered in gravel and a few weeds grew up between the rocks. We had driven by it before, but never stopped.  I was surprised when Grandma parked the car there.  I was used to going to our family cemetery, but not to this new place.  

A man stepped out of the little house when we got out of the car.  He smiled at Grandma and stuck out his hand.  He took my Grandma’s hand in his and when her tears started again, he patted her hand.

“How can I help you?” he asked.

“I have to pick something out.” Grandma said.
“Do you want to look around out here first?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “I know what I need.”

Grandma went inside the building with the man who had on a suit like my Grandpa wore to church on Sunday. He didn’t look like my Grandpa though. This man was round, sweaty, had little eyes close together. His tie was crooked and his shoes were scratched and dusty.  Grandpa’s shoes shined so bright they almost hurt my eyes to look at them.  This man looked “shifty.”  That’s what my Grandpa would have said.  I didn’t get too close to him.  I stayed outside to look at the headstones. Grandma said, “Don’t you run off now, I’ll be right inside.”
This cemetery wasn’t very big and the stones were sitting close together, not in neat rows.  Some had carvings of roses, lambs, or hearts slipped together like paper chain links.  The monument’s faces were shiny and reflected mine as I looked into their hard grayness. None had names or dates like the gravestones in our family cemetery.  I felt sorry for the people who were buried here. They must have been poor people. They had headstones with no names.  There was no grass, no flowers.
I wondered why my Grandma stopped here, why she was talking to the man in the sad little house.  I wondered if my Grandpa was poor. I hoped not.

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