I licked the ice cream off of my finger that had dripped from the cone. My sisters had empty hands, so I knew they had finished their treats. I had not always been a slow eater. It was only after I married Lynn that I relaxed and learned to live in the moment instead of pushing forward always like a bull in a china shop.
Today was not like the others. It was different because on this day we were standing over grave headstones that were one hundred years old, not fresh.
Four times. In one year we lost four people and cried over caskets and dead bodies while walking in a proverbial cemetery.
To be honest, before this year I was always fascinated with cemeteries. It wasn’t a morbid curiosity but I loved to peruse the headstones like I was looking for treasure- some tragic loss. In elementary school I spent Monday evenings at Deb Hursh’s house for Bible Club and as soon as the lesson was over, I ran across the street to get lost in Woodlawn cemetery.
The idea of dancing over a grave or eating ice cream over one is almost sacrilegious, like I am rubbing in the fact that I am alive. “I am breathing and you are covered in dirt.” But for me it was necessary to prove I wasn’t an empty shell.
I finished my ice cream cone.
Two headstones read:
Carolyn Shannon died July 9, 1986
Rozella Alwood died May 8, 2009
I remember these women.
Rozella, my Great Grandmother, was a tiny thing. She often wore floral patterns and pinks.
“How are you doing? How is Lynn?” she would ask.
“Oh, we’re doing great, grandma. Lynn is working in his studio on the side and he’s learning a lot.”
She would then smile, pause and say, “How is Lynn doing?”
My mother lost a parent when she was my age. Her mom, Carolyn Shannon, died from cancer. My only memory of Grandma Shannon was when she gave me a stuffed unicorn while she was in the hospital.
I can relate to my mother now. I joined the unwanted club of early loss.
She stood over her mother’s grave, not crying a single tear.
I asked my sister, “How long will it be until we can stand on dad’s grave without shedding a tear.” Part of me longed for that day and the other part dreaded it.
We drove away, but the cemetery followed us.
“Do you remember the last time we ate brats and sauerkraut together?” my sister asked as she looked up from her plate of sauerkraut.
“No, I don’t.”
“It was when we went to Silver Springs with dad,” she said, her fork almost to her mouth.
“Oh, I remember.” The men in lederhosen played accordions and clarinets while a group of dancers spun in circles at the front of the tent. My dad, sister and I sat on a bench, sharing one plate of kraut and brats.
We had walked the grounds before this, watching alligators and tourists making their rounds. Dad remembered visiting this place when he was a child. “Grandma has a picture from that trip,” he said.
After he died I found the paper-framed photo. He sat with his sister in a glass bottom boat surrounded by other tourists.
His memory would season conversations like this for the next few years. He was especially vivid in my dreams.
Two nights after he died I dreamed I was sitting on the front porch with him, silent and enjoying his company. All of a sudden he vanished and reappeared in the field in front of the house. I called out to him, “Dad! I don’t want you to go!”
He responded, “I’m sorry hun but I have to go.” He held up his right hand in the Vulcan way and waved.