Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Smell the flowers

Sunday morning we drove up to the sticks to see Momma. I didn’t go last year, wasn’t ready I guess. But my old man has gone every year since his mom died back in the late 70’s. All those years that I rode up with him to lay flowers on his mother’s grave when I was a kid I never thought I’d be just like him, doing the same for my own mom. Funny how history really does repeat itself that way.

The cemetery is ours, all our relatives. I guess someday I’ll end up there as well. Some of the stones date back to the early 1800’s. It’s mostly sand up there, no grass. Lots of pine trees around the area, but nothing to really offer any shade. Just hot, sunny, sand.

The tallest mound belonged to John Henry. But Momma’s still had some curvature to it.

As we walked toward the far end the sand crunched under our shoes. The highway is miles from the cemetery. There isn’t even a paved road within 5 miles. Just a dirt road only traveled by family. It’s amazing how quiet the Earth can be when nobody’s around to muck it up.

We were about 30 feet away when I had to stop. Jazz was behind me, following me out. I heard her take one more step before it went silent.

I could hear the wind.

See, when John Henry was laid down, I didn’t walk in. I stood back a few yards. His plot, which is beside my dad’s mom’s plot, is only a few feet from Momma’s.

The tree tops were bending in the distance and I could see the front rolling in. It was gonna rain. Back when Momma was first buried I used to think about that stuff. About her being outside now, in the ground, under the rain. Was she cold? Of course not, stupid question. But not any more stupid than flinching when we see an autopsy being performed, as if the body could feel it’s skull being sawed off. Yet we still react that way.

Jazz never said a word. Just stood quietly behind me. Goddammit, I don’t wanna do this. I don’t want to walk out there. I don’t want to see her name on her headstone or see the date I don’t need help remembering. I don’t want to see his name with his date of birth and the blank spot for date of death, just waiting to be filled in. I don’t want to stand beside that spot, knowing what’s beneath the surface. And I don’t fucking want to walk away until I tell her Happy Mother’s Day because she damn well deserves to hear it. If “hear it” is an acceptable phrase.

I heard the crunching again before I realized I’d resumed my walk. Once I got there I inhaled deeply, trying to sense her, I guess. Who knows. All I know for sure is everything I wanted to say was shit. And completely gone from my head. I just squatted down, staring at the letters, brushed off some dust, and waited for something to come to mind. Jasmine reached across and handed me the calla lilies she’d brought, then walked back toward the gate.

I took a moment or three. I never actually spoke out loud during it, but I thought it all. I figure she didn’t need sound anyway. It was the only way to keep it completely between us. Why in the hell I didn’t say some of those things two years ago when we knew the day was coming is beyond me. I guess I kept hoping for the impossible back then.

I laid the flowers across the low rise of earth and rose to my feet. They had really green stems and white petals and didn’t match the dry sand. I don’t know why Jazz chose those, but they were perfect. Elegant and classy, like she had been. No frills, no pretense. Maybe the rain would keep them alive a little longer.

When I got back in the truck I could still smell them. Their scent lasted the entire drive home. That night I went back out to get my silver travel mug. I sat in the passenger seat for a moment and inhaled a few times, but the scent was gone.

Just like Momma.