This lovely emerald isle was my Narnia whenever we visited my mother’s parents in Watertown.
Yeah, I know. Not much when I think about the camp that truly felt like Narnia to me. But my grandparents had no yard of which to speak, and the park of the forgotten portal was off-limits without a grown-up. Something about drowning, or strangers, or, you know, those boring things grown-ups think about when there’s adventure to find!
Beyond the emerald isle, you can see a fenced-off cemetery. It’s very old–clearly once the outskirts of the town, until they built around it. It covers the entire hillside, a mile if not more. We always drove past it to go into town, and every time, my eyes fixated on this:
Hard to catch, but I wanted you to see what my kiddie eyes saw: a stone tree.
I didn’t understand it. Why did someone build a stone tree in a cemetery? What’s it mean? Who’s it for? I imagined other strange creatures of stone, a whole land captured in a moment, eternally asleep until the right magic could wake it.
“No, Jean, you can’t play there. Good girls don’t go and play in cemeteries. NO, we are NOT going in there.” Neither my grandparents nor my mother seemed to remember that we used to live smack-dab next to a cemetery up north until I was 4, where our yard WAS the cemetery. So, was I evil for playing in it then?
Years passed before I finally dared to go it alone. Living at boarding school, free of sports and off of work. My grandmother in heaven, my grandfather in another part of town. We were told that GOOD students don’t go to this side of town, too much seedy behavior from the public children, keep OUT of there–
–until finally: “Fuck you, this is MY hometown, so I’M GOING,” I thought quietly and respectfully to myself. For I did think of Watertown as mine. It’s been the only place I’ve really known all my life. So to be told a precious piece of my little years was tainted by others’ sin…well. Note the aforementioned thought.
After visiting the park, I looked down the road, and remembered the hill. The cemetery.
Years of looking through the fence. Of a stone tree through a car window.
I had to see.
No, these pictures aren’t from the 90s, sorry. 🙂 And I’m sorry to report the cemetery wasn’t the magical world trapped in reality as I had dreamt back then. What I found was the past entombed in the present.
Rusted spikes run round the graves. I see old hoops for a chain to run across the opening. Someone did not want these places touched by strangers. I am sorry, but…I need to see.
Two books: one so faded I cannot read, and I have nothing with which to trace. Words lost to time and sight, but not to my fingers. If only I had the tools…. The other book marks names and dates. A hummingbird forever flying, vines forever climbing. But the tree has no top. A tree with no branches cannot live.
Why such small pieces of stone life? Surely a stone tree, branches and all, would symbolize life eternal, right out of Eden.
Perhaps the one who commissioned this was not thinking of life eternal. Perhaps all he, or she, wanted was some bit of hope clawing up through the ground. A flicker of life that darts in and out of the corner of one’s eye. One that could never be caught.
Whoever it was, this person wanted to sit with those laid to rest, and be with them. The difference in tombs, though…why but a trunk face for one, while a formal tomb with book for the other?
No inscription of any kind could be found on the trunk. Perhaps…not the one really loved? And yet this one was allowed inside the compound. Curious.
It made me think of another grave in another town.
I looked to the sky, to my empty hands. I had no flowers to give, but…
No works of art marking where the dead rest this time. For every plaque embedded into the ground, you can instead see a bouquet of artificial flowers, courtesy of the memorial park.
I cringe at the sight of a small yellow and white collection of fibers and plastic marking my father’s place.
No, it’s not fair to say fake flowers equal fake grief, but they seem so…obligated. For show. Look, someone likes him enough to make sure something bright is above his name. It will be there day after day after day–unless the lawnmower destroys it, of course. It could wave about in the wind for months, even, like the artificial Christmas wreath I once found on my grandfather’s grave in June. Faded, broken.
The closest thing to statue work is here: a tower with each side portraying a Gospel writer. Dad got St. Luke. He’d have liked that, I think: the practical doctor who saw Jesus better the lives of others’ through His Words and Actions. Dad referred to Luke in more sermons than any other book of the Bible.He worked among all, gave them hope and faith, just as he learned from his Savior.
Do I wish we had given my father more of a marker? Good Lord, no…well, maybe a walk-in stone Tardis, but that’s besides the point. No, Dad, and me, and all of my family, are firm believers that death is but a chapter break, and that the bones and ashes placed in the earth are simply that–bones, ashes. The soul is not in that box, but in the heavens, beautiful as a star, and far, far happier. The last thing Dad would have wanted was for everyone to fixate on this rectangle with his name on it, and think that’s all it comes to.
I get into the car as thunder bordered on the edge of the air. Grab a random burned CD and turned it up so I wouldn’t be lost to tears. And on comes “Journey of the Sorcerer” orchestrated by Joby Talbot. It just so happens to be the theme for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, a favorite author of my father’s. Banjo and piano meets with raindrops, drops turned to streams as the brass swells to the that rebellious staccato up and down, down and up. Set to repeat, I feel the build and dance every minute of that drive home, awash in memory of Dad’s eager talks about childhood adventures in Milwaukee, how Douglas Adams wrote the best Doctor Who stories in the Baker years–
–and hope to God this downpour smites the damn flowers.