Saturday, September 24, 2016

While you were away...

The first fiery leaves of autumn fell to the ground,
and the forest was cleared along the west side of the road.

They left the sunsets though, and a view of Venus
burning through dusk like a diamond.

At Thanksgiving, we played your song for the kids,
and they sang the words along with you.

Your roses bloomed in December, and the cardinal
returned to roost in the eves.

One day in the spring, we stowed our fishing gear
and watched a rainbow sail into the bay on the rain.

Your ring sparkled on your granddaughter's hand
as she accepted her diploma from your alma mater.

In so many dreams you were young and healthy again.
We heard your laughter, and your silence,

And we made another journey around the sun with you,
but for the first time without you.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Headstones

It's been 14 months since my mother passed away, and I finally signed off on the design of her headstone. I've read that it's best if you wait at least a year after a burial before choosing a memorial, to allow yourself time to grieve, and to make the choice in a somewhat more healed and healthy frame of mind; so that's what I did, although it felt like procrastination. I was a couple of months overdue, and family were starting to ask when they could place flowers in polished granite vases instead of the soil.

My mom's first name was Betty, and she was named after my great-grandmother Sallie Betty Evans who is buried in Damascus Cemetery in Lindale, TX. Sallie and my great-grandfather Mack Daniel settled there to build a family after a long journey from North Carolina via horse and carriage. Life was hard for them, and they buried both a stillborn son and daughter who are my great-uncle and great-aunt. I know them only as “Infant Son” and “Infant Dau” from their headstones.

Next to her husband's white marble monument, which depicts sunrays shining through clouds onto the opened gates of Heaven, Sallie Betty's headstone is diminutive and plain: forget-me-nots and leaves shape-carved onto a small, gray unpolished upright that looks to be a few notches above cinder block in quality. Lichens give it some color variation, along with water streaks from thousands of storms that have thundered over the cemetery across the decades since her burial.

But her design is pretty and unpretentious, and when I recalled it, the choice for my mother's stone became clear. Since they share a name, I would have the artwork on Sallie Betty's headstone reproduced and adapted to a wider stone, in a similarly-colored granite called Premium Gray. In this way, I sought to create an additional link between them, although Mom is buried 22 miles away in Bascom Cemetery.

The monument salesman told me that some people raise an eyebrow when they hear that Premium Gray granite is from China, but he's quick to point out: "That's where the Lord put it."

On a sunny day in April, I drove north to Damascus Cemetery and took several front-on photos of my great-grandmother’s headstone for the reproduction. The first draft needed a lot of cleanup, and I discovered that the design did not truly fit either the original stone shape or the new one. After an iterative process over several months, including a lengthy round trip to meet with the CAD artist, we arrived at a final draft with every tweak and adjustment I could possibly think of to perfect the artwork.

It dawned on me later that I wasn’t obsessing over line-widths and curvatures for the sake of art. In the two years before my mother’s death from complications after chemo, I was her caregiver. After she died, there were no more doctor appointments to drive her to; no more medicines to give, or conversations injected with her wit, wisdom, and occasional dementia; no more cheerful visits from the nurses that brightened her day. Her financial affairs were long settled, and she was gone, along with all the daily routines that helped sustain her to 2 years short of 80- an age we had hoped she would reach.

There was only the design on a shiny slab of granite from China ("where the Lord put it") to fuss over.

Looking back, I wonder if I could have fussed over her more when she was alive, and been a squeakier wheel when she needed me to be. Perhaps I could have given her a few more hours or days by making one healthcare choice over another. Did I miss some small detail that might have given my family and I another Thanksgiving, birthday, or Christmas with her? I don’t know.

Is there something in the artwork of her memorial that could still be improved before it becomes permanently engraved? Probably, but it’s too late. The artisans are at work, cutting the stencils, frosting and sandblasting, painting the lines and shape-carving the leaves and flowers, I trust, with precision and care.

When the headstone is placed in the cemetery, I will be there to ensure that it is level, and that the vases are precisely positioned, ready to accept flowers for the grand-daughter of Sallie Betty Graham Evans: my mother, Betty Yvonne Evans Pruitt. Then there will be nothing left to do except visit often, or at least enough. Too late in life, I've learned that is the one detail that matters most to a mom.