I didn’t plan on sneaking into the cemetery, but before the sun had a chance to scatter light across the Panhandle plains, I crawled through the guardrail gate. Husband beamed the headlights at an angle to assist my search efforts, but also to keep the glare from staring down the well-worn, two-lane highway.
This is crazy, I thought. But I had no choice; we had traveled too many miles and I had waited so long. I had no idea where to find the graves and my memory of the last visit to the site was veiled by the sadness of Poppy’s funeral. All I remember from that day was the wind whipping relentlessly, as if the slap of death wasn’t enough to bear.
I searched names and stones, joined now by two of my thrill-seeking Littles who were more motivated by the street cred that crashing a graveyard at dawn would give them than the honest attempt to help me find my maternal grandparent’s final resting place.
Visiting the dead is strange to me. Like so many other things, Husband has taught me well. His family tree is like a massive oak towering above my Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But more leaves beget more graves. He grew up experiencing the ritual of Sunday afternoon visits to the cemetery to pay respect to loved ones whom had passed. Standing by Husband’s side at the graves of his people encouraged me to do likewise. And so I found myself tiptoeing around tombstones under the blanket of Texas morning sky in search of my people.
A detailed message from a old family friend provided directions to Poppy and Nana’s graves. Go left when you enter the cemetery. Plots 55 and 56 are in the Garden of Beatitudes. I wished for a flashlight or a Native American shaman indigenous to this sacred land. Adrenaline paced my feet. I never doubted I would find the graves, but I overshot the Garden of Beatitudes by a mile. Recently dated markers near the edge of the flat field told me I was twenty to thirty years too far out. I have so much to learn about graveyards.
I was tempted to continue reading graves like a novel, turning pages one stone at a time, but the sun broke dawn and I was reminded of the ten hours length of highway before us. I glanced back at Husband sitting in the van with two sleeping Littles and I was caught between two worlds. I will return to this place I vowed in my mind. The strangeness of visiting the dead diminished and replaced by an odd desire to sit at the tomb and listen. I have so much to learn about my people.
I found the two humble graves marked Selfridge. I didn’t cry. I didn’t sigh. I’m not sure I was breathing at all. The Littles were quick to my side, I waved to Husband signaling my victory.
Once there, I didn’t know what to do. It’s awkward to arrive at the graves of your people after so long. I didn’t come to see marble headstones. I came to dig memories, revive stories, un-earth truths buried with the bones.
I longed to be with my Nana and Poppy. For a sliver of a second, I was sitting cross-legged in the window seat banquet of the sungold, floral kitchen in the house on Minnesota Avenue. I tried to hold on to the memory begging for it to tell me more, but it vanished like a ghost teasing, almost mocking, making me wonder if it was real at all.
I snapped photos furiously with a sense of foreboding, as if I was trespassing and the night watchman would soon catch me. Most of my photographs are blurred and I regret not slowing down long enough to focus. I wanted so much to document the morning. I do not trust that I will remember this moment properly.
We prayed over the graves. I thanked the Almighty for Frank and Dolores, and for all the generations who have gone before me. It is humbling to stand on the graves of those who walked before you. Praises offered to a sovereign God seem so tiny. But He hears. He delights at the sound of his children’s voices and blesses richly, orchestrating a sunrise of assurance over the land at the precise moment a tear of adoration moistened the soft earth at the grave of my people.
Teri Lynne Underwood says
Well now I’m just a hot mess … this is beautiful! Art.