Elegies

I felt like an intruder as I backed my car into the high grass.  A red van and a white car followed me into the parking lot and then passed me, rubbernecking to look at me.  I stared down at my hands on the steering wheel while they passed and thought about leaving, but the almost magnetic force that had brought me there wouldn’t let me leave.

I wore black that day.  Ironic.  Appropriate. 

Third row.  Next to the one that says, “Matthews.” 

I glanced into the distance and could just make out the red van and white car in the back corner of the property.  I wanted to be alone.  Completely alone.  And when I could see that I was, I stepped into the mid-July heat and tentatively crossed the driveway to walk among the stones.

One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Matthews.

Just past the Matthews’ family should have been his stone.  Instead, coarse grass struggled to grow over the seven-week-old grave.  A rusted wire stand held a formerly white bouquet of weather-beaten silk carnations next to his head.  A weary-looking fake rose bush sat lop-sided at his feet.  I reached down into the faded red blooms and held them aside so that I could see his name.  For just a moment, I thought that maybe it had all been a bad dream, but then, I spotted it: James C. Davis, Sr.  And I had lost him all over again.

The 2 o’clock sun baked into my black blouse and soaked into my black sandals.  There was something right about feeling physical pain while I stood looking down on my uncle’s grave.  I felt the sweat running down my back, but it seemed to make sense while there were tears streaming down my face.  The day that my family had been there, I had cried dainty tears– the politically correct kind that say, “my Great Uncle is in a better place now and I will adjust because life goes on.”  But on this day, by myself, there was no place for dainty tears– only wracking sobs that could only be translated as, “he wasn’t just my Great Uncle, he was my friend and was special to me, but now he’s gone and he’s not coming back.”

I knew that Uncle Jimmy wasn’t at that graveyard and that he couldn’t hear my words, but I knew that God was there and so I couldn’t help saying them anyway.

“Uncle Jimmy, I had to come visit you.  We were in Beaufort last week and everytime I passed your neighborhood, I wanted to stop at your house, but I knew you weren’t there.  They tell me Aunt Daph is doing good–staying busy–with lots of calls and visitors.  I’m sorry I haven’t called her.  I’ve been working long hours and out of the country.  And…  I miss you.  I miss you alot.  Did you know that after Grandmama and Granddaddy, I loved you the most?  You were the most special.  And I know that you can’t hear me, but maybe Jesus can tell you that I miss you and that I love you.  And that I miss Grandmama and Granddaddy and that I love them, too.”

Tears and snot dripped down my face and disappeared into the polka dots of my black shirt.  I heard the red van and white car driving slowly back down the driveway of the cemetary, but my back was to them, so I didn’t bother to wipe my face.  When I’d heard them make the turn out onto the main road, I dragged my hands across my face and then let the tears drip off my fingers onto the grave.

“‘Bye, Uncle Jimmy.”  And I was gone.

Death isn’t a new thing to me.  I’ve been to many visitations and funerals in my life.  I’m usually the one that’s silently passing Kleenex to anyone with red eyes or pouring coffee or holding babies.  I never felt a need to grieve over loss because I could get through it by being the strong, supportive one.  When the services were over and the food was put away and the thank you notes were mailed, I could return to my life and pretend that nothing had happened. 

I’ll never forget the one observant pastor who came up to me after my Granddaddy’s funeral and said, “Sarah, I’ve been watching you.  You’ve been very strong and your Grandfather would be so proud of you.  Now, stop it.  Cry!”  He put his arms around me, put my head on his shoulder, and patted my back.  But at that moment, the shock and hilarity of his expecting me to cry on command trumped any grief I felt.  I simply pulled away, smiled, and walked away shaking my head.  But his words chipped a hole in my armor and I’ve never been the same.

As the special people in my life leave this world for the next one, it hurts more with each loss.  I’m keeping more Kleenex for myself than I’m giving out to others.  I’ve stopped pretending that it doesn’t hurt.  And while life does go on, I’ve also given myself permission to remember.

Incidently, I’m not a big fan of poetry–reading it or writing it.  I have a small handful of poems that I’m just wild about, but on the whole, I can’t abide the pompous, overbearing, overemotional stuff.  But I did write a poem remembering my Granddaddy.  And since I’ve written prose (this blog) to remember Uncle Jimmy, I don’t guess I’ll write him a poem.  But for Granddaddy, here’s my elegy:

On that Monday morning in late October,

as I changed diapers and

spooned oatmeal into children’s mouths,

a phone call divided my life in two–

life with you and life without you.

 

Mama wept,

Daddy told me that your heart betrayed you–

gave you no choice.

I threw the phone across the room

and watched it crash onto the floor.

 

Your funeral was my stellar theatrical performance.

I marched into the sanctuary, dry face raised

and sat like a stone among your other grandchildren

with unused Kleenex crumpled in my hand,

a blank expression on my face.

 

At home, the phone still rings,

The car breaks down,

The pots boil over on the stove,

The world moves although you do not.

 

It’s impossible to forget

as I walk through your house.

I still see your bare feet

and hear your whistle

with the expectation

that you’ll walk into the room

reclaim your recliner from

its current occupant.

 

The house has slowly been wiped of your fingerprints.

The closet only holds one person’s clothes.

The bathroom only houses one toothbrush.

And though your pictures watch us like framed, paper angels

from their posts on the walls,

it is not the same.

About Sarah Salter

Comments

  1. Girl, I am crying with you. This is a beautiful post, filled with your true vulnerable hurting self…the one you (and I) try to hide from the rest of the world. Thanks for letting us peek in. Somehow, I am sure that Uncle Jimmy felt the same way about you as you do about him. How could he not??

  2. I agree. A powerful post.

  3. Found you through Coffey–The imagery to me was haunting–the idea of slowly wiping fingerprints away–an allegory of memory I suppose?

    And who knows really? Maybe your Uncle could hear.

  4. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks for coming by, Rick! Maybe my uncle could hear… But I like to think that he’s so busy worshiping God that he doesn’t have time to think about what’s going on back here on earth. :-)

  5. Uncle Lee says:

    I cried with you on this one. Sometimes, a good cry is a good thing. We all miss those who were called to Heaven before us. Our time will come and we will reunite.

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