On a whim I decided to go out to the cemetery today.
I don’t have a scheduled day or time that I go out there. I just get the urge and hope that I have someone for an hour or hour and a half to watch the kids so I can go. Today it worked out.
I woke up feeling shitty from yesterday’s activity. My back ached and I was exhausted, despite the fact that I slept in until the unheard of time of 8am, getting a full 8 hours of sleep for the first time in I don’t know how long. I got up and tended to Chase’s needs, did a short yoga session to try and stretch out my back, and showered. I could feel the lazy side of me crying for a relxing day. I tried to ignore it as I don’t have time for lazy, but I found myself on the phone talking to a friend, drinking coffee on the back porch. Afterwards I wandered down to the basement to switch last nights laundry, and the urge to do some more organizing hit, so I followed it. I decided then and there that today I was just gon’ on and do what I feel, instead of what I felt needed to be done. It is a 3 day weekend. In the words of Scarlett, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”
I spent several hours down there, and satisfied but still sore, I decided to try and lay down for a nap. Or just rest my eyes and back, since the reality is I have children beyond napping age so therefore I am not allowed a nap. I laid there thinking, and the more I thought and the more the kids bugged me, the more I needed to get the fuck out of there.
Those that know me know that occasionally I need a long drive in the country with my music up to soothe my soul. There is something about the solitude and absence of noise from the city and chatter of people that brings me back down to earth. And when I have an emotional dilemma, I crave the prescence of my dad more than anything. It’s a half hour drive each way to the cemetery, and while I wouldn’t be able to see or hear my father, and going there would not give me any more guidance than what I already have, it does something to ease my mind.
I grabbed my motrin and an energy drink, which I haven’t drank in at least a month, hoping that the pain medicine and caffeine would make me feel better. I left the kids with their grandmother, and headed to my car. I popped the Monster, downed the Motrin, lit a cigarette and turned up my music, feeling better already. I drove out of the city and into Michigan, searching for a song on my internet radio that would speak to me. Today it seemed it would be Black Stone Cherry and 3 Doors Down. As I drove I felt stress leaving me and words started itching the back of my brain, describing the country road, and I knew that I would be writing about this later.
I knew these roads like the back of my hand, having been driving them for 12+ years. To go to the cemetery I took the same route that I used to take to my grandparents or Adrian, which is where I spend quite a bit of time. I’ve driven these roads in tears, and hung over, and high from lack of sleep. I’ve driven them in snow and thunder and ice storms, I drove them before they re-did them when the potholes from farm vehicles made an obstacle course. Dark and day, twilight and dawn, in multiple kinds of vehicles. I think I know these roads better than I know myslf sometimes. So I could do so without thinking, and concentrate on my brain and the music. I sang at the top of my lungs with nothing but the fields to hear me. I looked at the trees in all their glory and saw signs of fall starting to peek through. Goldenrod lined the road, and the fields were dotted with harvest equipment. I passed a couple vegetable stands, but no other vehicles. Everyone was already where they planned to be for the evening and praise the higher powers that it wasn’t out here. I kept glacing at the speedometer, fully aware that it is a holiday weekend and I have a lead foot. Somehow I was maintaining the speed limit without being fully conscious of it. I drove past the road that my grandparents had lived on and sighed knowing that I most likely would never drive down there again. It hurts my heart that life has changed so dramatically in the past year, especially knowing that I didn’t take advantage of the time that was given to me with them on this earth. I sent my love to them and kept driving. I noted that the new house that had been being built last summer was complete and their lawn was coming in nicely. I nodded to a man driving past me at a stop sign as he nodded at me. I miss country ways. I passed the apple orchard that as a child had marked the almost there point to my grandparents, and noted that they would be opening their store this week. In all the times that I have driven past there I had never been inside, and wondered if I should bring the kids this year. Now this place marked the almost there point to the cemetery. How strange these changes in my life are.
It’s not just my dad’s site that I go out to visit. Half of my family is there now. My Uncles Ray and Artie, my cousin Micah. My grandparents and then my dad. Our family lost Micah first, a shocking thing beause he was so young. He tortured us girls when we were kids, but that’s what a brother and cousin is for. I specifically remember a time when he wasn’t the one picking on me but lifting me up. The older girls got caught smoking, and while I’m a smoker now, I wasn’t then. I was with them and therefore guilty by association. I was so embarrassed that I hid out upstairs at my grandparents until Micah came up and talked me into rejoining the family. I don’t know if he ever knew what that talk meant to me. Later in life we bonded over music. He was a helluva musician, and we liked the same types of music. I got my first set of stiches in his kitchen, and he called me to thank me for not bloodying up the place. I looked up to him more than he ever knew. My Uncle Ray came next, so sad because he was such a good person, the type of person that would give the shirt off of his back to a stranger. He was a quiet presence at family get togethers, the first to find a recliner after we ate. Despite the few words he spoke though, you never doubted where you stood with him, and you could never take his quiet for anger or dislike or boredom. He was just content, I think. After him was my dad, and then my Mamaw, the matriarch of the family. When I read Gone with the Wind, it was my grandparents house that was the setting for the story in my head, and Mamaw was Ellen Robillard, the nurse and mother and head of Tara. Now granted, my Mamaw’s language was a bit more colorful than Miss Ellen’s, and this isn’t Southern Georgia on the brink of the civil war with slaves in the fields. But Mamaw over saw everything, and her word was law, and she was so knowledgeable and only had to look at you to get you to behave. Not to mention her cooking – ! Nothing like Mamaw’s biscuits and gravy, and hers was the only chicken and dumplings or kielbasa and sauerkraut that I would eat. She has given me the best advice that any one has ever given me, and her approval was what I set myself by. If it was good with Mamaw, it was good with me. It was not a complete shock that Papaw went less than 6 months after her. their’s is a love story that I hope to someday find. I knew that they belonged together, in life and in death. Papaw was always good for quoting scripture, and just when you were to the point of zoning out, he would bring it to real life terms for you. He loved to learn until the day he passed, receiving post cards from all over the world telling him the history of the town and country from a native perspective. I read him a few of these and we talked about what he knew of the place already, comparing notes from what he knew and what I had learned in high school. He was also a writer of beautiful poetry, a man of many words. If my ability to string words together well came from anywhere, and if thats a hereditary sort of thing, I like to hope it came from him. Between my grandparents we lost my Uncle Artie, someone who felt things so strongly that he at times let his emotions get the best of him. He did not attend any ones funeral after Micah’s, it tore at him too badly. He apologized profusely to me for not going to dad’s, but I was not offended or bothered by this. I understood how badly it must have hurt him, and I could empathize. I most definitely did not want to be there myself, and wished I had the option to not go. I admired him for having the self awareness of knowing his limits and caring for his own peace of mind the way that he did. Specifically, I remember when my grandfather passed away on my mom’s side, and he found out that my tires were so worn that the they were all about to blow. He knew I would be doing a lot of driving between Hillsdale and Adrian and my grandparents farm, and ordered me to go to Walmart and price tires, and then purchased a brand new set for me. He wasn’t a constant prescence, but he was there for me if I needed him and I knew that to my core. I miss these people more than I could ever express. They weren’t just my family, but people that helped show me the kind of person I should strive to be.
So while I visit the cemetery to visit my father, I also come for these others, too. It’s a well of strength and hope for me. I have living relatives I need to visit more often, before they are in this place too. If there’s anything I’ve learned from having lost so many it’s that life is never promised. Life gets in the way of touching base with those that are alive that I love so dearly, but just know that they are just as important and loved by me as those that I visit at the cemetery.
I turned my radio down as I entered the small town, well aware of where the cops sit. I have a turn signal out, no reason to have my radio blaring and draw attention to myself. I rounded a couple corners and nodded to a woman pumping gas at the town’s only gas station, and came up to the corner where the Shiver Shack stood, an ice cream place that has been there as long as I can remember. It was boarded up now and for sale signs scattered the grounds. It hurt my heart, remembering an adveture dad and I inadvertently went on, ending here with us eating ice cream in his truck, and tears stung my eyes. Life marches on. Nothing lasts forever except our memories. I turned down the road to the cemetery and saw the church come into view and sighed. Unfortunately the church was not a place of solace for me, but a constant reminder of those who are gone and the funerals and celebrations of life that had been held there. The chuch to the right, cemetery on the left. I pulled in and killed the engine. I grabbed my cigarettes and left my phone to charge, and walked slowly through the headstones to the back of the row closest to the road. I glanced at the row of stones, straightened a wreath and a few other items, and sat in front of my dad’s stone. I sighed and lit a cigarette. I sat in silence for awhile, listening to the crickets in the nearby cornfield, watching the ants march, and reveling in the silence and solitude. I trailed my fingers across the lettering on dad’s stone, and listened to the flags flap in the wind next to his and my Papaw’s stones. I admired the peace sign keychain someone had left for dad, and let the tears come. I miss him with every ounce of who I am.
Slowly the words came. Halting and quiet, I poured my problems into the wind and dirt, hoping that I could find some relief even if I didn’t find an anwer. For fifteen minutes I vented to no one and nothing, smoking one cigarette and lighting another and smoking it as well. The ants continued to march, the breeze still blew, the crickets still sang. I still spoke where no one could hear my confusion and lack of decisiveness. Someone else pulled into the cemetary but drove to the back, and I never halted. Let the wind carry it away, let the sun bake it from my skin, let the dirt soak it up like rain. I needed it out of my brain, out of my mouth, free from my soul. And finally I could find no more words. I extinguished my cigarette and stood. I walked along the stones and placed a kiss on each one, from my mouth to my fingertips to the stones, for each and every one of them. Then I knealt at dad’s and placed two there for him, one for me and one for brother. I leaned my weight onto the stone and hung my head and asked for his strength to keep going. I stood, straightened my back, pulled down my sunglassees, ad walked back to my car.
As I drove home, back through the town, past Shiver Shack and the gas station, past the place where the cops hang out, past the apple orchard and down the country roads, past my grandparents road, my mind was peacefully blank. I soaked in the music and the sights, and thought of nothing but the road in front of me and my hands on the steering wheel. I didn’t feel the need to sing anymore, my soul was at ease for the moment. The peace I gleaned from the cemetery doesn’t last long, already it is leaving me and my anxious mind is back at it, asking questions and wondering things it has no business wondering. But for a moment, I was free of it all.