Sunday, May 28, 2006
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!"