Posts Tagged ‘death’

Building

December 13, 2012

If it was up to me I’d cancel Christmas this year.  My dad died in May and it seems easier to just let the holiday pass without a glance.  I’m content to listen to silence rather than carols on the radio in the car on the way to work every morning. The beautiful Christmas cards I bought last January at seventy-five percent off are still in the box in the attic, and Grandma’s cookie recipes lay dormant in their file box.  December 25th is thirteen days away and the only shopping I’ve done is for my boys.  They gave me the list I asked for and I didn’t deviate from it, shopping online.  My children are older now, and they seem to understand my mood.

Christmas is less than two weeks away and my energy is funneled into the 1910 buggy shed attached to the house that originally belonged to my grandparents. We’ve gutted it and I’m building a room.  I’ve traded in my holiday sweaters for overalls and work gloves.  I sweep sawdust, prepare rough pine boards to be planed, hold the level, and read the rule. I’ve learned to show a hammer who’s boss, and I stand back to admire the recycled window that takes up almost an entire wall. I breathe in the scent of pine boards and feel the spirit of my grandpa around me. He was a carpenter.

On Christmas day, I’ll stop working in the backroom long enough  to prepare a Christmas meal of country ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, waldorf salad, and dinner rolls. Then, I’ll pull out Grandma’s rum cake recipe and prepare it just the way she did.  We’ll welcome our family, share a feast, open a few gifts, and enjoy a cup of egg nog and a piece of rum-soaked cake. We’ll miss my dad.

***

While I measured and helped cut boards tonight, my boys dragged the artificial Christmas tree down the attic stairs and rearranged the living room to make a space for it. They plugged in the lights and fluffed the branches, then decorated it with their individual glass ornaments, the ones I’ve ordered each year from a crafter who specializes in paper cuttings sandwiched between two round pieces of glass. The boys choose the highlight of their year for each of their ornaments. They keep these treasures in a box under their beds.  All the other ornaments are stored away in the recesses of the attic.

Ben and Ryan stuck their heads around the door to the backroom. I stood holding a beam in place as Bruce worked the hydraulic jack to raise the roof a few inches higher to level it.

“The tree’s kind of plain Mom,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, it could use some color,” Ben agreed.

I remembered a conversation I’d had with my dad years ago. He told me the story of when he was a little boy and my grandma didn’t have money enough to decorate the Christmas tree. She tied string to their Christmas cards and trimmed the tree with them. He said it was the prettiest Christmas tree he’d ever seen.

I shared the story with my boys. They turned and left the room.

I’ve done all the work I can do for the night. I’m ready to fall into bed. I dust off my jacket and walk back into the house. To my left is our Christmas tree adorned with the highlights of my boys lives and the Christmas cards we’ve received so far this year.

I have to agree with my dad. It is a beautiful tree.

 

O

Where the Poor People Were Buried

April 25, 2010

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.

New Year’s Eve 2009

January 1, 2010

     New year’s eve, the day I throw away the trash collected in the pockets of last year, and admire the shiny treasures worth keeping.  At midnight, I start new, donning stiff jeans, starched shirt, a strong leather belt, no holes in my socks and the brim of my hat will point forward to 2010.

      I’ve lost some dear friends this year.  Vicki, was fifty. She died of pneumonia.  No one dies from pneumonia anymore, well, maybe old people with compromised health, but not someone just reaching her stride.  Vicki hadn’t walked the outer banks enough.  She was the most honest person I ever knew. She fought for the independence and rights of old folks, offered marital counseling, sticks of gum, and recipes as she cut and styled hair.  She called me when I was sick and paid for a pedicure and massage for me when my grandma died.  She understood my loss and comforted me with touch.  My only solace in losing her, is knowing Vicki was welcomed into heaven by her own Grandmother’s arms.

     Sailing ships, seed catalogues, rooting my Grandma’s French lilac, pruning perennials, plowing the earth, counting inches of rainfall, hugging away hurts and cherry cigar smoke rings are all things that speak to me of Granddad Thomas.  He lived next door and I knew his kindness for forty-eight years. He was almost ninety when he died.  Ryan and I were with him when the rescue squad came. His spirit left him on a clear, dark, November night. I think it slipped quietly from his body and then exited his house through a crack in the window. He is sailing among the constellations now, dipping his net for the stars that are his children David and Judy and his Granddaughter, Monica. He will pull them up into his boat, and the four of them will sail on, waiting for Grammie.

      My step brother, Randy, died December 4.  I met him when I was 21, at my father’s third wedding.  He was four years older than me and already had a wife and two boys who were seven and five.  He laughed hard and often.  He lived life large, smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and downed his struggles with cases of Budweiser. His daring always skimmed the surface of foolish, like he understood he’d leave the game at half-time.  Off shore oil rigs let him smell the salt air, feel the power of God’s hands in the crashing waves and glimpse the brushstrokes of uninterrupted sunrises in the Gulf.   He made the trip to Virginia in September to gift us with a tight squeeze and one last look into his blue eyes.  He didn’t tell anyone, but he knew.

     I have plans for the new year.  Some will work out.  If I write them down, they’ll feel more real to me, but in feeling real, I have to own them.  I’m not sure I’m ready to do that yet.  It’s only 2:18 on New Year’s Eve. I’m warm and comfortable in my patched and faded jeans of 2009. My soft sweatshirt has a hole in the elbow and a vegetable soup stain running down its front, my belt is cinched just right and my big toe peeks out of my sock.  I lost my hat to the wind in June.  I still have almost ten hours to sort through what is left of this year, to revel in its comfort and decide what I keep, what I toss, and what I add to my new pockets for 2010.  
    
  The countdown has begun. Why do we hear the ticking so clearly on Dec. 31st and not so much the rest of the year?
     Happy New Year.