I wrote this for English class...
I’ve driven by the cemetery thousands of times before. It’s on the way to my parents’ house, right off the highway. Today it’s a sunny day, and my big blue truck meanders down the highway at a legal 55 miles per hour. The windows are down, and the heat is on. It’s the best kind of day for a drive~ the warmth of the sun on my arm as it hangs out the window, heat on the floor keeping my sandal-clad feet from getting cold, sunglasses protecting my eyes from the afternoon glare, but not so dark as to take away the gloriousness that is a crisp, sunny, cool day. It’s easy to let my mind wander as I travel down the highway, the loud hum of my oversized mud tires and the rush of the wind the only music I need to hear. The road is clear, not a vehicle in sight, and the gentle curves of the blacktop are unbroken except for the gently climbing and falling hills as I head out of town.
Before I know it, the turn signal interrupts my daydream, seeming to turn on all by itself to let me know that I’ve arrived. The clicking sound reminds me to slow down and I glance in the rearview mirror to make sure no one is behind me. The truck jolts as I turn off the highway, over the hump of the driveway. The smooth hum of tires changes to a heavy crunch as I move over the gravel. The drive is narrow, and goes straight back. I slow to a crawl, careful not to let my wide vehicle slip off the drive and disturb the thick grass on either side. A sigh escapes from somewhere deep inside me as I absently drive by the perfectly straight rows of stones belonging to people who used to walk among the living but now lie at rest. I see all different shapes and sizes. Some are simple, regal, quietly standing guard over the person lying below. Some are ornately decorated with flowers and hanging plants and generic silk flower signs like “Mom” or “Grandpa”. My eyes wander idly over them, because they’re not the reason I’m here. I guide my truck past them all, to the very back. I roll to a slow stop, slide the gearshift into park, and roll down the windows. It’s warm enough that the truck will be really hot when I get back inside if I don’t. Another long sigh escapes my lips as I hop down out of the truck. I grab the flowers I’ve brought, along with a wicked sharp knife that is smooth on one side and serrated on the other to cut them. It was his knife, and now it lives in the pocket on the door of my truck.
My eyes search near the fence for a familiar place, somewhere I’ve spent many hours since last January. I smile when I see it. My feet seem to carry me there all on their own, traveling the way they’ve passed at least a couple dozen times. As I crunch over the gravel I think to myself that my flip-flops are getting worn out. They’ve gone almost everywhere I’ve gone this summer, and the sharper rocks penetrate the thin spots and poke my feet a little. Soon my feet sink into long grass, and I can’t resist the urge to take off my shoes and walk barefoot. The grass is cool and the ground is smooth, and my feet are relieved to be free of those blasted shoes. I feel more respectful this way anyway, entering into peoples’ places of rest barefoot, almost as a sign of respect. I head toward the back, carefully stepping around the graves of people I don’t know. I hear a voice in my head (maybe it was my mom?) telling me not to walk on other peoples’ graves, so I do my best. There are many open spaces here in the back, and I walk slowly toward the stone that I love, the knife in its sheath in my pocket, the flowers in my hand. They’re blue and white, the team colors of the Indianapolis Colts. I hadn’t picked those colors on purpose, but I chuckle when I think about how he would appreciate that. Finally I am there.
The stone stands there, silent, thick, and strong, just like he was. It’s tall, with an irregular shape, not square or rectangular like most of the stones in this place. Smooth on the front and back and rough around the edges, like it’s been chiseled by hand, it is reminiscent of the man it represents. I walk around to the back and see the verse from II Timothy, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”. It brings peace as I think about the long and difficult fight that consumed his last three years as he struggled against illness. The letters are etched in the stone to remind any who visit of his strength, his perseverance, and his drive to try everything possible to stay here with his little daughter as long as he could. On the front his name is carved in large, bold, strong-looking letters, along with the usual dates, which are separated by a simple cross. Below that it tells when he married the woman he loved faithfully and the name of his daughter he adored so passionately. It also speaks of the child he now gets to hold in Heaven.
I look at the empty flower vases, and feel glad that I’ve brought some to fill that empty space. The crisp white carnations will look good against the ebony stone, with a little blue here and there. My eye settles on the Notre Dame emblem engraved in the stone and I laugh when I remember the near-coronaries he had while he watched football. He was a quiet man by nature, but football awoke his inner beast. As my eyes sink down to the foundation under the stone, I feel my brow furrow in frustration. It’s covered with yellowed, dry grass. Irritated, I scrape away handfuls of it all the way around and wonder if the people who mow this place even cast a thought toward the feelings of the people who visit and how they might feel to see piles discarded so carelessly on the graves of those who are important to them. After tossing the pile of grass over the fence into the cornfield nearby, I wipe stray pieces off the back and the face of the stone, and I catch my scowling reflection in the black granite. When I get around to the front, I tenderly wipe the etched image of the man who lies below, clearing the last bit of grass. When my eyes settle on the smirk on his lips, permanently engraved there in bright contrast to the stone and I laugh when I think about what he’d say to me~ “You’re whining about grass? What about the bird sh#t on top of this rock??”. I grin ruefully; he’s right, I know. But it feels like a bird’s deposit is somehow less offensive than careless mowing. I make a mental note to bring some water to clean it off next time if it hasn’t rained. My duties done, I sit down to start working on the flowers.
I love this corner of the graveyard. There’s only one row behind his stone, and it’s mostly empty. It’s quiet here, and I can spend time talking to or thinking about this man I love so much. I can barely hear the sounds of cars as they whiz down the highway. It feels private, and I can let my emotions come through without worrying that people can see me as I work and talk and pray. The fence that separates the cemetery from the cornfield behind it is old, with weeds and flowers growing up through it. The corn is getting dry; it’s almost harvest time and the yellowed leaves rub and rustle together, providing a soothing curtain of sound between me and the rest of the world. I think about how he told me he liked this spot last year when we were talking about it, and he was right. There’s a little bit of a breeze, just enough to be pleasant. It’s peaceful here. I keep arranging the flowers, buried in thoughts and memories. I tell him the latest antics of our three-year-old daughter. Time seems to stand still here in this quiet restful place, and it’s soothing to my soul.
The flowers are done, and I’ve said what I need to say today. I stand up and take one last look, pleased with the symmetry the flowers add. I kiss my fingers and gently caress the image of the man I’ve loved for nearly a decade. “I’ll see you next time, Sugar,” I say, and turn to leave. The cool grass beneath my feet brings me back to the present, to the responsibilities that await me after I leave this place. I sigh again. It’s time to go.