With the arrival of spring, I will increase my visits to St. Charles Cemetery — and feel comfortable staying longer. My wife, Louise, died last April, just three days after her 81st birthday, and I’ve surprised myself at how often I visited her grave.
One visit I made in the fall shortly before the really cold weather set in stands out clearly in my memory. It was colder that day than the day before, and rain was promised. I went before noon to take a picture of the holly bush my oldest son, Billy, had planted with the mums to either side of it. I was there early, before the gravestone could cast a dark shadow over the planting. There was, however, little or no sun, no shadows either. I took three photos from different angles.
The four stones Billy had placed on top of the gravestone were still there. I had wondered two days before how a single mum sitting atop the monument had remained there in the wind. Billy had placed its stem under one of the stones. However brave, the mum was gone today. Brave, too, were the shivering leaves still clinging to the young maple tree a few yards from her grave.
Workmen were busy in Louise’s section that day. In scattered places in the area a mist rose and dissipated. “Look,” I said, “clouds of smoke, like incense and charcoal from a priest’s censer.”
Louise, always more down to earth than I, answered impatiently, “They’re pumping air and water from the underground sprinkler system.” A frost was expected directly.
“Any news?” she asked, in a voice now soft and hesitant.
“I had a colonoscopy on Monday. No problems. No polyps even. Then Thursday, I had an endoscopy. Dr. Herman didn’t want to do both procedures the same day, because, get this, he said, I looked feeble. When he saw the look on my face, he corrected. ‘I mean just your legs. You’re shaky getting on and off the scale, the neuropathy, not the rest of you.’
“Anyway, Thursday he did the endoscopy. Said there was some inflammation here and there. No big deal.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re OK,” Louise replied. “Who drove you to the office?”
“Harry, Monday. Mr. Dependable. I didn’t want the kids taking off from work. Lauraine drove Thursday. She said it wasn’t a problem for her to take a day off, as long as she knew in advance. She was great. All of them have been great. Did you leave them orders to be kind to their old Dad?”
“Don’t be silly. I didn’t order anyone.”
“The day before you died, you were out of it, and you said to me. ‘Your father gets upset when he has to deal with bills and deposits, and taxes. Keep an eye on him,’ ” I told Louise. “My son, Gerry, said, ‘Dad, she thought she was talking to me.’ I’m not complaining. It’s all true. He does keep an eye on me, from a distance. They all do. They’ve been terrific.”
I looked at the nearby gravestones. Here was O’Keefe and there, Abbondola. The section was filled with recent burials; there were flowers, bushes, flags, a soccer ball, even a fishing rod. People prayed, planted, watered, left things, touched the gravestones, blew kisses, carried on conversations, shed tears. The living and the dead still clung to one another.
Across the way, cars drove by on New Highway, and beyond that a plane rose from the airport runway at a sharp angle and flew over the shopping center where couples sought bargains at Modell’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
“You’re quiet today,” I addressed Louise.
“I always was quiet. You used to complain. Then, when I did talk, you didn’t pay attention.”
“Yes. I’m sorry for that and for a lot of other things.”
“That’s OK. It’s all OK here. Who is doing Thanksgiving this year?”
“Gerry is,” I said.
“Tell him I will bring my lasagna and maybe an apple pie,” replied Louise.
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