Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com
It began with a family picnic on that cool November day. Gray shredded clouds lay feathered against the elusive blue of sky. Frosty eddies of air mingled with scents of cinnamon and apple pie, buttery mashed potatoes and sweet raspberry lemonade. A deep-broiled brisket, browned and tender with gravy awaited us as we picked our way through the old cemetery that occupied the corner of Pinecroft and Hillsbury. Warm summer had persisted through the weeks prior to the day and emboldened by a confident forecast, we’d settled on this day to gather and eat in the waning sunshine.
Ours was a strange custom, born of generations encouraged to remain close to those that had gone before us. Memorial parks were still parks after all, and with the headstones flat and nestled in among the freshly-cut turf, one could pretend this was only a place in which to rejoice in the bounties of life.
Lilly, with her little velvet coat and matching dusky rose ribbon in her gold-spun hair, walked with Theodore in his gentle navy blue frock to compliment his dark curls and shining leather uppers. My children. I’d brought them along with Anthony, my loving husband of more than twenty years. His urn sat silent and patient as I chattered to it as if he were lying in the grass beside me. I knew his bones were ash; he never wanted to lie rotting in the ground as his father before him. Still, dinner was had here in Hillcroft Memorial Park, a clever combination of names from the two intersecting streets, and Anthony came along, though he never had much to say.
I glanced up to watch Theodore and Lilly hop over gravestones and relate spooky stories to one another, their high voices carrying bits of their tales to me over the breeze. I wasn’t hungry, but I ate Anthony’s portion anyway. Today was special.
After the children returned to settle and eat, we cleaned our area and locked the basket in the car. Anthony came with us.
“Did you find it?” I asked Lilly, older by two years than her smaller brother.
She blinked and pointed in a direction and we detoured our path. Under the spread embrace of a dogwood tree, I spotted it. The children broke away to reach it before I did. A simple square, set in the ground, blades of grass drooping inward to it. I regarded the urn in my hand. A tear escaped to slide down my cheek.
Only now could I afford to lay him to rest not rotting. He was dust already. Memories of his laugh, his smile, his hand on my cheek raced through my mind. A year. Nothing more. An unstoppable sequence of days, carrying him away from us.
I knelt beside the hole and set the urn in place.
Next year’s picnic, we would eat under the dogwood tree.