Monday, May 26, 2014

No flowers for Phoebe

This is the day when we honor those who served in the military. And most of the communities in the area have services to do just that. But also part of the tradition of Memorial Day here is decorating the graves of relatives.

We drove to our friend’s house Sunday afternoon for a visit and so Richard could help him with a project in the yard. He is slowly recovering from major abdominal surgery, and lifting large plastic bags of topsoil into a garden cart, pushing/pulling it over to the strawberry bed, and shoveling it on the ground and spreading it around is not on the list of approved activities.

The country road we take to their house passes a cemetery, and by yesterday afternoon just about every grave with a headstone was decorated with at least one brightly colored arrangement of plastic flowers. I found myself thinking back to one of the vacations we took when my mother was still alive, and she decided she wanted to find her “Grandma Phoebe’s” grave.

I remember being rather surprised by this request because visiting graveyards was not something our family did. My mother, for whatever reason, did not want her children at funeral homes or at funeral services. I was 8 years old when Elsie, my mother’s mother died, and I was not taken to the visitation, to the funeral service, or to the cemetery for the burial. My father’s mother died about a year later, and although I do remember looking at her body in the casket at the funeral home, again, I was not taken to the funeral service or to the cemetery for the burial.

And once the relative had died and was buried, my parents’ attitude was that there was no point in going to the cemetery to visit the grave. So that was something we just did not do.

My mother’s mother, Elsie was born in 1886. While she was still very young probably 3 or 4 years old, her mother died, I assume not too long after giving birth to Elsie’s younger sister. She left behind 4 children – 2 boys who were 11 and 8 and the 2 younger girls. Their father was not able to care for his children, so one of the grandparents took the two boys because they could help out on the farm. Elsie was taken in by a childless couple, Warren and Phoebe McDowell, who raised her as their own daughter. I am not sure who raised the other girl.

When Phoebe’s husband died, Elsie and her husband took Phoebe in, and she was living with them when my mother was born. Phoebe became my mother’s “Grandmother” in every way except by “blood.”

National Public Radio had a feature today about how our childhood memories are often memories we have “recreated” from photographs of ourselves at events that we really don’t remember. I have seen a picture of myself with Grandma Phoebe, Elsie, and my mother, and I like to think I remember her, but probably not, because I was very young, about 3 years old, when she died.

So, off we went to the cemetery to find Grandma Phoebe’s grave. Elsie is also buried there. We had to go to the office to locate the graves, and the man behind the counter brought out a map showing approximately where Phoebe had been buried. My uncle had been given money to purchase a headstone for Phoebe’s grave. But he had used the money for something else. There was no headstone. No marker. Nothing to indicate the spot. 

Trying to figure out where Phoebe was buried was quite complicated because there were several other unmarked graves in that row, but eventually, we were fairly confident we found the spot. So, we stood there for a minute looking at the grass-covered gap between the other grave markers. I think my mom was wrestling with the idea of buying a headstone for the grave, but then decided not to. She was the last living person, besides my dad, to have known who Phoebe was or to have had any family-type connection with her, and there would be no point buying a head stone. There were no long-lost relatives on a genealogy quest coming to look for it.

I expect that some flowers were placed on her grave at the time she was buried, but no flowers were placed the day we went, and no flowers were placed there today to honor her memory. I believe Phoebe has a better treasure now. I believe Phoebe began laying it up for herself in heaven the day she put a plate of food in front of a hungry little girl who had wandered into their temporary quarters and almost certainly saved her life. I am so very thankful she did.

Monday, May 05, 2014

That magic moment

Last night when I took the Wogster out for her last squirt of the day, I first noticed the lovely crescent moon sort of surrounded by several bright stars and/or planets in a rather pleasing display and then, down much lower near the ground, the flashing of a firefly, the first one I’ve seen this Spring.

I suddenly realized with some surprise that the next day -- today -- would be the anniversary of our arrival here in 1981 (unless it was May 7, but no matter, close enough). We arrived late in the afternoon, already in a daze with the beauty of this part of the state, but that was only the beginning of what was in store for us later on that evening.

Richard drove the U-haul truck, which contained our stuff, I drove our family car, and my parents had come along in their car, pulling a trailer. It was much too late in the day to begin unloading the truck, and we were all tired anyway. They began to set up the trailer, and we drove to town, before it got too dark, to reconnoiter and figure out where we might sleep ourselves. We came back as it began to get dusky. And then suddenly we heard ourselves oohing and aahing. We did not need a prompter on the sidelines encouraging us. We watched in stunned amazement at the incredible display that began very gradually and then got increasingly intense as the sky darkened. We were surrounded by twinkling fireflies. It was magic. They were everywhere, flashing, rising, and falling and moving in all directions. None of us had ever seen them – our closest experience with what fireflies were had been at the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland, which they had mimicked by stringing small twinkling lights.

A lot has changed here since then. We decided not to continue to brush hog the pastures that surrounded the house and to let everything grow back. And it certainly has. Gradually, over the years, the number of fireflies has diminished; perhaps because of the changes to our land and perhaps for another reason; in any event, there are not that many any more. But there are still a few, and seeing them is still magical …