Sunday, May 28, 2006

Remembering....


Another Memorial Day and I muse at the parade of those incredibly peaceful cemetery names across the land. It's too bad in life we can't aspire to the serenity we embrace in death in places like Skyline Memorial Gardens, Forest Lawn, Oak Grove, Rose Hill, Evergreen, Memory Gardens, Pierce Brothers Cemetery.

Whoa! Pierce Brothers? That always sounded more like the Flying A station on the corner of 10th and Main downtown than a place of eternal slumbers. But Pierce Brothers it was in my hometown.

This weekend I recall a Memorial Day of many, many years ago where the sacred, set-aside sections of Earth of every little community and town sprout multi-colored bouquets under the stars in fields of blue amid neatly mown grass and clover lawns of verdant greens. Pierce Brothers was no exception.

The significance of Memorial Day was lost on me. I didn't know anyone 'neath those flowers and flags. Yet every year this happened.

Oh sure, there were the two grandmothers and grandfathers who died before I was born. I never knew any of them. And as absent as they had been in my life, they were almost equally aloof in their deaths, buried seven states and 2,000 miles away. They were nothing more to me than a glistening in my mother's or father's eyes whenever they'd remember them.

I was a stranger to death and those who represented it to most of us, the living, were nothing more than those floral arrangements and little flags that suddenly sprang up every Memorial Day down at old Pierce Brothers.

But to my parents the day held more meaning. And so, when my mom announced that she and dad were going to take a drive through the local cemetery to see the graves, would I "like to go along?" I declined. We were new in the area. There was no one there I knew.

That's when inspiration hit me. Plucking a handkerchief from my bedroom dresser, I headed out to my bike, announcing I was going to go for a ride instead. I wished them a pleasant drive.

Arriving at the cemetery a few minutes before my folks, I picked out a grave near the the narrow lane that wound among the eternal slumberers. Borrowing a single rose from the bouquet atop it, I began working myself into the proper mindset. Trying to evoke tears, I imagined I was over the grave of Gina Lollobrigida, or Sophia Loren. For more tears, I imagined both beneath me.

It wasn't long before I spotted our black and yellow '57 Ford slowly winding along the lane toward me. Never once glancing in their direction, but with hanky deployed, I dropped to my knees as I placed the lone rose atop the grave in my best display of grief for the departed, Gina and Sophia. Behind me I thought I heard my mother's voice as they passed. Through the open car window came the words, "That damn fool!"

My prank had succeeded beyond my greatest expectations. Once back home, my folks and I would laugh about it. And every Memorial Day with my folks thereafter, I would hear my mom recount that one in particular to friends and family.

And now, many years later,I am no longer a stranger to death as in my youth. Mom and Dad are no longer here. Having passed almost 20 years ago now, they slumber eternally. No, they didn't end up in the Pierce Brothers place. They went to a place called Fir Lawn.

But just like Pierce Brothers and every other cemetery in the country this day, the flowers and flags are in full bloom. And while Fir Lawn is four or five states and almost two thousand miles away, there occasionally occurs a Memorial Day when, amid the colors of tributes of sadness, a shadow is cast across their graves. It's the shadow of their son with hanky in hand, a rose in the other. "That damn fool!"

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dada,
You brought tears to my eyes remembering Grandpa's car and I can hear Grandma saying those words out loud. It made me remember how you could make us all laugh with your strange sense of humor. What a wonderful way to remember the past.
C.

dada said...

Thanks, C., reading your comment made this entire blog worth the effort and time. And, as I read it, I felt the tears welling up in the old eyes. Oh, where was that handkerchief when I needed it?

Everyone, C. is my niece! Thanks, niece! Happy Memorial Day to you and yours!

enigma4ever said...

Well that Damn Fool certainly knows how to tell the story...and make us all aprreciate what really matters, small moments, the pranks and the laughs, that make our hearts bigger and yet lighter...
thanks for the great story....

Honors and Peace to you Dada...
namaste...

meldonna said...

It wasn't a Memorial Day, but a Mother's Day, back in the early nineties that all this reminds me of...

I happened to be living back in Arkansas, going back to school at the ancient age of thirty, when Mama asked if I wanted to go out to the cemetary with her. She always liked to put fresh flowers on her mom's grave on Mother's Day, and although I'd been along before when I was a kid, this time it wasn't the whole fam damily, just me and her.

I learned more about my family, and my mom that day than I had in my whole life.

Just listening to her remember, tell old stories I'd never heard, about her mom, my Aunt Margie, the rest of the aunts and uncles, and finally how angry she'd always been with her own father, was amazing; my mother is a classic about keeping her own business to herself. That day was the beginning, for me, of really coming to grips with the fact that every headstone has a story; and it's okay to smile in a graveyard...we should always celebrate the lives, not mourn our own losses. You'd have thought I'd have gotten the message after six years in Texas and the Dia de los Muertos festivals...

What breaks my heart these days is all those who shouldn't have to die; and all the survivors we see around us (vets) not EVEN honored enough. I guess I can't say 'happy' Memorial Day; but that doesn't mean my good wishes don't go out to all.

And especially you, dada-man. Peace to you and yours.

dada said...

e4e: Good to see you! Thanks for dropping by and the kind words. After all, what are we but our stories, right?

dada said...

mel: Don't you love the little triggers we sometimes unexpectedly encounter that send us spinning off in a memory, or a story from our past?

Thanks for sharing yours of a very special, intimate time with your mom. With that, you triggered one of mine.

My brother, finally accepting he was mortally ill was visited by me in his hospital outside Portland, OR. I flew up, trying to think what I could take him. "Gunga Din" the poem, the movie, was one of those references that were part of the weave of his fabric.

So I took that poem. And I took a book of poems. If you can imagine, well, I couldn't, reading poetry to my brother, 19 years my senior! It just wasn't on the table or in the cards.

But he absolutely loved me reading those poems to him. And while shaving his whiskers the next day, he looked up at me and said, "You know, you're a pretty good brother, aren't you?" Choking back the tears, I responded in kind.

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to make confessions like that. Thanks for the trigger!

meldonna said...

Hey, Dada...glad to hear you got to spend some really good time with your brother; so many times those opportunities slip away from us before we realize it...

Maybe not such a Damn Fool after all, huh?

dada said...

Thanks Meldonna: Yes, my brother and I were lucky to be given the opportunity many never get.

But I still feel remorse the circumstances that brought it about. Much like those wonderful sounding places so many of us end up in, in death, which often refect lives lived in anyplace but the likes of "skyline memorial gardens".

I still cherish many of those final memories with my late brother, however.