Thursday, July 23, 2009

On a Mission From Lynda

Though it was long overdue and I had my uncertainites at the outset about the underlying reasons for performing the act, on a sultry sweat steeped July afternoon in Shreveport Louisiana, Stephen and I laid Lynda to rest on the grave of her first husband, Jack Smith.

My doubts had to do with the seeming contradiction between Lynda's lifelong religious affiliation and the fact that she expressly ordered me to have her cremated long before her death was imminent. As Jew, she certainly expressed a desire to be a part of the community and so accepted many aspects of the religious practice of it. But she could--and did--pick and choose among the requirements, or restrictions if you will, that suited her logic and temperament.

On the latter, she could ignore the language of the service because it didn't suit her to learn or even understand Hebrew; transliterations were sufficient. And as for logic, well, keeping kosher didn't make any sense to her, so keep kosher we did not. Filling up land with dead bodies didn't pass the logic test, so cremation it was to be.

My father also was clear about being cremated, and we scattered his ashes in England shortly after his death in 1981. It wasn't until after Bill's death that Lynda added the part about having her ashes scattered on her first husband Jack's grave.

So it was that Stephen and I set out on the morning of July 9, with Lynda's ashes--most of them, anyway--in a tupperware container in a box the back seat, right next to the cookies and soda. it seems a little ignominious when I say it that way, but honestly, Lynda never minded sitting in the back. She always had that element of 'Miss Daisy' who preferred to be chauffered about, and I was always happy to accommodate.

We could have driven stright through to Shreveport but we planned the trip to include a stop at my friend Henry's house in Nacodoches, which is in far East Texas. There in the midst of the piney woods and rich red soil he and his wife Glenda have a wonderful country home. Though Henry complains of the nuisances that all the 'critters' (squirrels, armadillos and moles, just to name the top three) give him, it's clear that he enjoys the luxury of the countryside, with the quiet, fragrant and most invitingly cool refuge that it offers.

After many days and weeks of record temperatures here in Austin, it was a delight to spend some time in the cool of the woods. We even went out back and shot his pellet rifle and 22 rifle just to say we'd done the country 'thing'. It certainly brought back a lot of memories from my childhood, when all we did from Saturday morning till Sunday night was hang out in the woods and shoot our pellet rifles till we ran out of ammo.

The next morning, however, it was time for Stephen and I to fulfill our 'Mission from Lynda'. We set out for Shreveport around eight and pulled into the sleepy little Louisiana town just before noon.

The cool from the East Texas woods had vanished the moment we crossed into Louisiana, which seems to be on a time zone that is about fifty years behind the rest of us. The roads themselves advertise the transition. Stephen shuddered and I drove very carefully.

We found the Greenwood Cemetery right away, but I wanted to get some flowers, so we circled back into town and asked where we could find a florist. The clerk at the Embassy Suites or wherever it was that we stopped merely did a Google search and printed the results for us. No map, no directions, but we found it nonetheless, using the Google map on my phone.

The front door to the florist was locked, but as I turned to leave, a woman in a suburban out front stepped out to let us in and sell us some flowers. When I told her what they were for, she gave us a wonderful bunch of freshly cut flowers, including one very bright and large sunflower, for just ten dollars.

Flowers in hand, we went back to the cemetery. Here's where my lack of planning got us stuck, if only briefly. I had assumed--and I know what 'they say' about assuming--that there would be an office of some kind at the cemetery. You know, somewhere where they have maps of the cemetery and and can look up the location of loved ones for visitors who show up not knowing where they are going.

Nope, no such office exists. There isn't even a map posted on the wall at the entrance. We drove around, aimlessly for a bit, hoping to find someone working in the cemetery that could give us a clue. Nope no such workers were present. And it makes sense, really. This cemetery is no longer active, which means that it just doesn't have the number of visitors that warrant an office, and since there are no new graves being dug here, there isn't even a groundskeeper on duty.

I made a couple of calls to local funeral parlors and found out that Greenwood Cemetery is now owned by the city of Shreveport, but that didn't get us any closer to Jack's grave. Then I remembered that Anne had been to visit the graves as an adult, so I called her to ask if she recalled exactly where to find them. Exactly, no, but in a general sense, she knew where they were. After a short search with this new information, I found the graves.

There are three graves side-by-side next to a tree in one of the oldest parts of the cemetery. Jack was first to pass, and his headstone is right next to a tree. Large today, it must have been just a sapling in 1946 when Jack was laid to rest. To the left of Jack's headstone is his step-father Lester's, and next to him is the marker for Jack's mother, Anne.

I know that Stephen had been here before and that there was considerable emotion surrounding this visit, but for my part, I felt strangely detached. It's a complex subject, Jack's death, involving as it does the issue of how I even came to be here. However I look at it, no matter how Lynda felt about him, I do not mourn Jack. I don't begrudge Lynda for loving him more than Bill, for Jack had the luxury of dying long before he could come up short of her expectations. That's simply the way it was when I came in, so to speak.

I did expect to honor her final wish, however, no matter how I felt about Jack, for this was something that seemed to transcend the issue of two fathers and addressed, perhaps setting to rest, finally, the issue of Lynda's true love. She missed Jack every day. This I know because I saw it or heard it many many times growing up. To be sure, her public display of heartache diminished with the years, but consider that when I asked her, in the months leading up to her death, what she'd done with the wedding band that Bill had given her, she said she'd sold it or given it away 'years ago'. The wedding ring that Jack gave her, however, was something she saved and passed on to her granddaughter when she was married.

We laid the flowers on Jack's grave and Steve began to scatter the ashes gently, letting the wind carry the soft bits away while raining down crystals of Lynda on the dry earth at our feet. I join him, scooping out the fluffy grey ashes that looked for all the world like moondust and passing it between our joined hands as she returned to the earth.

I cried for the first time since her death.

In this act, at this moment, I became more keenly aware of something I learned from Pierre's death. It was in fact the very motivation for making this trip to deliver Lynda to her final resting place. Even if I personally do not wish to be buried, I see now the value--and a very ancient human value it is indeed-- of putting someone to 'rest' in a specific place. The act of burial, or immolation, or scattering takes place in a place, and that place is not so much for the passed but for those who remain, those 'horsemen' who are just passing by.

I doubt seriously that I will ever return to Greenwood Cemetery in Shreveport to 'visit' Lynda, but it good to know, in a sense, where she 'is'.

Bye Mom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I miss Lynda! Thanks for sharing.
bc