It has been a quiet Easter Sunday here. Jackie and Mary Ann went to sunrise services and then the normal church services this morning and evening. I slept in and then went out to see Jim and Mattie.
I then went to Paducah to get flowers to go on the graves. My mom always put flowers on the graves of my dad, his parents and grandparents, and the grave of my Aunt Eva’s first husband, Jesse Pace, and their son, Donnie. She also tended to those of her parents, her sister Audrey and her husband, as well as some great aunts and uncles. Now that my mom is laid to rest beside my dad it is my place to tend the graves. I’m not sure why it’s my place, but it is. And so I do, whenever I’m here.
A few years ago I started making at least an annual trip to Murray, Kentucky, where my beloved Aunt LaVerne (Marjorie LaVerne Terrell Duffany Gordon) is buried. Her children live away and her husband remarried and moved on, so she is there by herself, on a beautiful hilltop. I doubt very much it matters to her, but for some reason it matters to me. So, at least once a year I go there and put fresh flowers on her grave. I take the ones that have a bit of life left in them and put them on the gravea of her neighbors in the cemetery.
I have been doing this for some years now, long before my mother died almost six years ago. For some time I did it without anyone knowing. I’m not sure why, but I just did.
Once I went to put flowers on her grave and there were bright, new, fresh flowers on it. I had no idea where they had come from. I inquired at the office and they had no idea. They were not flowers like a florist would send, but ones like an individual would bring. It was a mystery.
I went back to the local store where I’d just gotten flowers, and bought some plastic bags and put my business card inside the bag, along with a note, explaining who I was and how I was related to her, and asked to be contacted by whoever was putting flowers on her grave. I put it inside the metal vase, so if the flowers were changed out the note would be seen. Each time I went I would write the date on the paper and put it back into the baggie and back inside the vase.
Then one time I went and the note was gone and there were new flowers. The baggie was still there, but the note had been taken. I was sure I would get a phone call or letter, but it never came.
So I started over again, with another piece of paper and another note – this time with work and personal numbers and an email address. Now, a few years later, I’ve had to start yet another note because the paper was full. Still, no idea of who else puts flowers on her grave. It hasn’t happened in a few years now. Has that person moved on? Died? Lost interest?
I still leave a note in a baggie inside the vase each time I put flowers on her grave. Maybe one day the mystery will be solved. Maybe it never will. I do wonder who else loved my Aunt LaVerne enough in life that they remember her in death. Did she have a secret life? Or is it a much simpler explanation?
I often wish Aunt LaVerne were buried in Barlow, along with her parents and grandparents. When she died they lived near Murray, and I suppose it made sense to her to be buried there. Her second husband was from near there. But I don’t like it that she’s there without any “context.” Here there would be context – people would say, “Oh, that was Luther’s youngest – she went out to California – then moved back to somewhere around Murray later on…” But, these are things I think about that maybe no one else does. I think about them because of the geneaology research I’ve been doing off and on for many years. (www.myatt.org)
When your family has largely been in one place for generations, it’s easy to accumulate some history – most of it in the graveyard eventually. Our family story is played out there in row after row of the Barlow, Kentucky cemetery – some in the “old cemetery” and some across the road in the “new.” In some ways it’s quite comforting. There’s a continuity in it – somehow everyone lives on because the memories are still alive.
I never met my great grandmother, Randy (short for Maranda Rose Spears Campbell Myatt), but I go visit her grave in Oscar, Kentucky because I know her through the stories of others. I wish she and Henderson, her husband, were in Barlow, too, but they’re just a few miles away. It makes one appreciate the idea of family cemeteries when you think about such things, but people still move around and end up other places. If family cemeteries really worked, we’d all be buried in the Myatt one in North Carolina, so there you go.
I’m a person who has never felt “settled.” I thought when I purchased a home that I would feel like I had a place where I belonged. But, I feel no more settled now than I did before that. Life for me is always about the possibilities and the now. But the past is what anchors me and gives me a foundation from which to explore. Without the love of my family, here and departed, I could never be comfortable enough to seek out the newness I constantly desire. That love is the rock – the foundation – on which one builds a life that may include constant seeking, and being unsettled. The only place I am certain I “belong” is in the Barlow, Kentucky cemetery when I depart this world. I know that.
Otherwise, where one lives seems pretty inconsequential, as long as those you care about are accessible. By and large people work and play and live, and they do it the same way regardless of where they live.
Sometimes I’ll be driving around here and I have this overwhelming urge to live in Ballard County again. I have this fantasy of having a house here and making a home here. And then I remember that I have a whole life going elsewhere. There are people I depend on, who depend on me – there are responsibilities and joys and traumas – just as there are for everyone. And I remember that I’ve thought about this before.
I left home when I was 17 to go to college and other than about four weeks the following summer, I never lived at home again, although I visited regularly. I have lived in Kansas longer than I lived in Kentucky but I never think of Kansas as home. It’s too alien to me. Still. The people, the culture, the places, the landscape – it’s all alien to me.
I have learned to appreciate the prairie. There is a beauty in a prairie that’s blooming, just as there is beauty in a road covered with trees. And there is a sound that only the prairie makes, just as there is a sound only the confluence of the rivers makes. You have to listen with a discerning ear to hear either of them.
All those little bits of life are what I appreciate. In some ways I’m such a simple person and in some ways so complex. I get tremendous joy from talking with Jim and Mattie or joking with Mary Ann and Jackie.At the same time, I’d like to pack up and move abroad – maybe to Egypt or Paris or other parts as yet unknown. How can these things coexist in one person? I don’t understand it and I am that person.
I was mulling all this over tonight as I drove home, treated to a reddening sky. There is something magical about a sunset where there are no silhouettes of buildings on the horizon.