NOT A GRAVE STORY
Judy Light Ayyildiz
MOUNT VERNON CEMETERY IN TEAYS VALLEY, West Virginia sprawls gracefully just across the road from a two-story farmhouse. Tons of tombstones fill the postcard gravesite among a green country garden bed tumbling over with primroses, old hanging trees, unpruned azalea and peony bushes and an assortments of flowers.
I was born in the farmhouse across the road. Snow of a February afternoon piled high onto the sit-in-rockers front porch. My granny, Gracie Perry, and a mid-wife great aunt, named Mag, delivered me into life. With a basket of Granny’s eggs in hand, at age two, I would walk beside my older brother, Jon, from that house in the bend of the dirt road down to the widow’s place. Today, lifted, turned, coated with red bricks, and garnished with a white rail fence, the refurbished farmhouse perches like a clubhouse in the center of a subdivision.
My mother’s family used to meet up in Mount Vernon every Decoration Day to place flowers on graves of family who had gone on to their reward. Afterwards, we enjoyed a huge potluck picnic down by the lake—a promise made to Granny from her children to continue having reunions after her death. The warm gatherings at Granny’s house while she lived, and the reunions until the last of her children died, contributed to my sense of belonging to a devoted clan that enjoyed playing softball, telling family stories, and sharing heaping plates of home cooking.
I realized when my favorite Aunt Lou died that the ones left felt a comfort of going to a spot somehow related to the deceased. When Mother died, I further experienced that. I would go over to Mother’s grave, knowing that her spirit had moved on, and think on her. Mother loved artificial flowers because they didn’t die or fade away to nothing but a wilted stem. She decorated graves with them, but I don’t. If I don’t have real flowers, forget it. My dad never permitted artificial flowers for graves. He had superior words for those who would place such on his people’s sites.
The year after Daddy died, it came to Decoration Day. When Mother went to putting those plastic roses on his grave, I said, “Mother! Daddy never liked artificial flowers.” She said, “I know, but there’s not a living thing he can do about it now.” I laughed at that answer—knowing how Mother was so submissive to Daddy through the years.
When I gave up the idea of being cremated, I wanted to be patted away in Mount Vernon, but I doubted there’d be room. I called my mother’s younger brother, Bill. The cemetery was full; but, they had opened a new section just over the bank from Granny and Grand-paw and the other family. When I asked, “Do you reckon I could get one?” Uncle Bill said, “I would say so, since I am on the cemetery board!” Oh my gosh, those old trees! “Can I have a tree?” He didn’t see why not. And then I asked him, “Can I have a iron bench on my plot?” He told me that nobody’s ever asked for one before, but there are no regulations against it. If I did, I would be obliged to have a concrete footer poured to hold it so they could do the Perpetual Mowing around it. I just squeezed myself because that was exactly what I had in mind.
I was so caught up that I bought all four plots, not thinking of whom the other three would be. My husband has always said he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes just scattered to the Aegean Sea. The two of us have teased about how if he goes first, I get a long trip to Turkey; and if I die first, he gets to go to West Virginia. But when I came up with this idea of the bench in this pretty surrounding, he asked, “What’re you going to do with me?”
When I reminded him that he wanted his ashes spread to the sea, he said, “Maybe I will or maybe I won’t; but do you think our kids are going to want to come to your bench and be wondering where their father is?”
I knew right then and there that my husband had determined to be next to me for all eternity; and although that felt a bit like a trap, I knew I would let him have his name on a bench if he wanted. Folks could sit a spell and enjoy the scenery.
Uncle Bill had given the idea of dressing up Mt. Vernon with benches some thought, and had probably enlightened the board. He turned to me and said, “Now Girl, you can feel free to put your benches on the plots any time you want. No need to wait around until you die.”
I could see it too. Those benches would spark up that new end of the cemetery. And I could see myself stopping off Interstate 64 when I ran over to Huntington from Roanoke (a cup of coffee from the fast foods in my hand) —sitting on my bench, meditating. I also remembered some lines to have etched on my bench, a little something I wrote back in college: We sang and we sang till the Lights went out, / Then we talked of old times in the dark/ Till along came a watchman with torch in his hand/ And he ushered us out of the park.
I’ve always appreciated the idea of life cycling back to the roots.
Judy Light Ayyildiz is a longtime educator, teacher of creative writing courses for young people, and the author of 10 books, including her latest novel, Forty Thorns, a tale about the rise of modern Turkey and a very special heroine who lives through the country’s evolution and tumult. Learn more about Judy’s work at her website: www.judylightayyildiz.com.
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