A few Saturdays ago, I mapped out a path around town to take care of some errands. You know, the usual stuff. A suit that requires “Dry Cleaning Only”. The tape dispenser that I’ve been meaning to refill. The paper towels that are on sale. But I also made a stop that I hadn’t quite planned to make.
My car inspection has been due for some time. I should have really taken care of it first, but being the free spirit that I am, it kinda didn’t feel like I should rush — that is, until I waited until three in the afternoon and went to three gas stations — each one saying that they either didn’t do inspections or that it was too late. I kept looking around for about an hour. It was a pretty dreary, foggy day, but it was still bright enough to be considered ‘daytime’. As I drove around, I had a strange urge to take a turn that I normally wouldn’t take. And then, all at once, I realized why that urge came. My father’s grave.
I usually don’t like to share this with people, but my father passed away when I was only two months old. I came on February 8…. he was called home on April 6. Two months. Fifty seven days. Not a lot of time to do a lot of bonding. I never really spent much time feeling bad or deprived for it. For one, it’s hard to miss something you never really had the opportunity to know. And more than that, God has filled my life with so many men who have stepped in — for however brief a moment in my life — and taken the baton and then passed it to the next man….and so on. I never felt as if I had been deserted. But I think one can’t help but wonder about some things. Strangely, my mind always goes to the finer details that I’ll never know. How did he speak? Was his voice as high as mine? Did he hate meatloaf too? What pissed him off? What made him cry? What was his favorite cereal?
As I drove by the grave (and almost drove past it), I had a strange feeling suddenly come over me. Normally I would have used this as an opportunity to procrastinate. There’s plenty of time…. you need to get your car inspected. It’s late. It’s rainy. The sun is going down soon. Just come back some other day. But I couldn’t. You see, it had probably been close to thirty years since my last trip there. We didn’t make a lot of trips to the grave. Too many bad memories. ‘Why keep bringing him here? Better to focus on the future,’ I’m sure she thought. But somehow, I got the strange feeling that this was the time and today was the day. And with that, I eased my foot on the brake pedal, made a turn and a half of the wheel towards the right, and drove through the cobblestone columns.
When I pulled in, the first thing I noticed was how alone I was. I expected to see at least one other car. Maybe a family standing around a freshly topped grave, sharing fond thoughts. Or maybe a buddy drinking a Heineken and slurring thoughts of old times as he drank and poured equal amounts of beer into the ground and himself. But there wasn’t a soul nearby. And there wouldn’t be a soul for the next two hours while I was there. Yep — I was in this one all alone.
On top of the solitude, it was a pretty foggy day. Eerily foggy. But I seemed to be too focused on the task at hand to feel fear. I decided to take some images to document the visit.
As I said, it had been about thirty years since I had last visited the grave. These are the times in your childhood that you try to forget. The way that they try to steal a glimpse of your face. Trying to detect a hint of sorrow from a child who’s not quite old enough to understand the finality of death — much less the fact that his paternal history has taken residence in another world. And so, I’d just try to get through those visits. We’d only been there about four times — I’d say six, tops. I barely remembered the general area where we visited. As I drove up to the general area where I thought he was, I realized how cold it started to get. About forty-one degrees according to the indicator on my dashboard. But I didn’t reach for the spare hat in my glove compartment. No — this is a trip that I’d have to make, sans-comfort.
Not visiting the grave for close to thirty years has filled me with a huge degree of guilt. And walking past the other graves, as I searched for my place to reflect, didn’t help alleviate that sense of regret much. As I surveyed the rows of the ‘dearly departed’, I found myself feeling the most sorrow for the headstones that spanned such a short period of time. 1987-1998. Wow. And then I felt sadness at the fresh graves of folks that had just been laid to rest. I began to notice the older graves and that gave the place a sense of perspective…. there were graves that had spanned as far back as the 1800s. You had just about two decades covered here. But as I moved through the cemetery, there was one thing that I began to realize wasn’t covered here — the location of my father’s grave. Continue reading ‘The Missing Grave’