Thursday, January 25, 2018


A poem about buying a cemetery plot in the 22 January issue of The New Yorker, triggered a memory of our family's twice a year trek to the grave of my grandfather, uncle and aunt. My grandmother would plant flowers, often purple and yellow pansies in the spring and yellow chrysanthemums in the fall.

The selection of the flowers from Weston's florist had been the first stop. The florist had an earthy smell and the greenhouse always felt warmer than the air outside.

When finished sprucing up the grave, my grandmother did the same for her sister-in-law's family. Auntie Maud lived in New Jersey and wasn't able to do it herself.

My brother and I would run around, sometimes fill the water bucket for my grandmother, sometimes just letting out excess energy knowing we have to sit still when we ate lunch at a restaurant afterwards. We neither loved or hated doing those trips, it was just part of our lives like brushing teeth or eating red flannel hash after a New England boiled dinner.

My Aunt Lois died in 1915, at a year old. She had failed to flourish. My grandfather, worried about my grandmother, insisted they go to see family on the coast. Half way there, my grandmother insisted on going back. She walked into the house, picked Lois up and within minutes lost her daughter forever.

My Uncle Gordon died at 33 of a cerebral hemorrhage during the night.

My grandfather joked he wanted to be buried in his beloved veggie garden, claiming, the tomatoes would be wonderful with him fertilizing. Imagine the shock when we arrived one time to see a flourishing tomato plant over where he was buried, the only one in the cemetery, which is located in a city nowhere near a farm.

When my grandmother died, my mother kept postponing adding my grandmother's name to the tombstone. I finally did it myself.

Once my grandmother was gone, we no longer tended the graves.

My mother wanted to be cremated and her ashes spread in the woods which she loved looking at from her North Andover apartment balcony even though she said terrible things went on the woods (read teenagers making out and maybe more).

On the day my brother and I would follow her wish, I picked up my girlfriend. I found her sitting on the stoop of her Boston townhouse. "I checked Emily Post to see what you wear to an illegal ash scattering of a woman you don't like on Earth Day," she said. We wore jeans and sneakers, had my two Japanese chins, Amadeus and Albert with us, and ate at MacDonald's afterwards. The dogs split a plain burger.

Later I was telling a co-worker named Bill about it. We were a small firm of eight, four of which had the name Don or Donna. Bill said I should write a story about my mother's ghost who killed any teenager making out in the woods. 

I read the poem in bed, my puppy Sherlock curled up between myself and my husband. The church bells did their usual seven o'clock symphony. It also dawned on me that I had spent ten days in the spring at my daughter's in Malden. I could have gone to the cemetery, but it never entered my mind.


The people who are buried there have left only their earthly remains. Who they were, what they did is part of me wherever I go. 

No comments: