I can feel the windon my grandmother’s gravewherever I am.
After gravel-road driving to the little Bergen church,I fill the bucket that hangs from a spigot by the gate of the cemetery, waterfor the flowers growing in the planters at the cluster of Flatgard graves.How many times has this bucket been filled by me? by my family?
How many gallons of life have been hauled by the families of the Bergen dead?
Who plants these flowers and provides the dirt? my family? the church?I’m not sure, but it’s nice to think that every spring we pay our respect.That every year we find it as much a part of life to sow the cemeteries as the farmers annual turning of the thick loam.Are we growing hope?
I can feel the wind on my grandmother’s grave wherever I am.
Ah, this wind,blowing from the green plains that roll for miles,the fields nestle the church and cemetery,whispering at the fence-line.I remember at family gatherings,me and my cousins, runningaround this church, climbingthe trees of the graveyard, laughingat city relatives who stood in the fields and said,Take my picture in the cornwhen we knew they were in the beans.
Was the wind blowing that day we put Grandma in the ground?I believe I felt it.I stood with five of my cousins,we were men now, casket-bearers,six abreast, strong in our suits,facing the large crowd gathered at her open grave.I felt rooted there with my cousins,like a windbreak we got our strength from each other,shoulder to shoulder,looking at the familiar faces all sad,friends and family,from the wrinkled and old to the taut-skinned babies,I saw my grandmother had not died,no more than a stalk of corn that gives seeds before returning to earth,to spring forth again as a multitude, my family,we stand together and sway in the wind.
I remember thinking at my grandma’s funeral,we’ll never gather this large again.After the burial, we all went to my great-uncle’sfor grandma’s favorite way to celebrate, we gathered to eat.We were jammed wall-to-wall, laughing and greetingthose we hadn’t seen for so long,hugs and back-slaps and farmer-strong handshakes.Before the meal a hush,we thought of Malindaeach of us in our own way and collectively,then we sang our traditional table grace:
Be present at our table Lord, Be here and everywhere adored, These mercies bless and grant that we, May feast in paradise with thee. Ah- men.
Oh,who did not feel the power of that song,all those voices becoming one voice.We lifted Malinda to God on that voice.
We sang in sorrow for the one who was not with us.We sang in joy to think of Grandma with her maker.We sang Malinda, the song her love.We sang Malinda and I saw her face smile before me again.
The air was still in the nursing homewhere Grandma spent her last years.She came in after a stroke,thinking she was still in her own house, she’d sayGo in the kitchen and get more chairs nowas we crowded in her room to visit her.But Malinda got better and better,fought her own mind, cleared the fog.Soon she’d ask to be taken back early when she visited us,she had a card game to attend to.
She looked after the other residents,and when I visited she showed me off,reintroduced me to the people who forgot my name since our last introduction,to the people paralyzed with stroke,to the blind people who knew Grandma by voice,to the people missing arms, missing legs, missing…
At best the people were like Malinda,able to get around, sharp enough to visit,but some were at their worst,lying on their back and just staring, waiting, waiting, waiting…
I left the Home always thankful,always renewed,always inspired by these daily battles with death.I left with a vow to live.
The air in the nursing home was still,a chemical smell, a food smell,a smell between school and hospital,always the same,so it was with great joywe got Grandma in the low bucket seatof my Special Edition 6.6 Litre Trans-Am,not sure how I was going to get her out again.In the trunk was her walker and the removable sunroof.We donned our sunglasses and blew outta town,the nursing home blipped from the rearview mirror within seconds.
Roadtrip, just Grandma and me.Our destination, Iowa.
Wind in her old lady hair,we had small bits of conversation when slowing through farm townsbefore kicking it down again, roarof engine and wind,that beautiful white noise of freedom.
We made this trip to see Grandma’s sick friend,it was the last time they’d see each other.They talked in one room while I sat and tried to watch tv in the other,instead thinking of what they could be saying to each other,old friends burdened with the weight of parting.
It was extra important to live, live,after that talk so Grandma and I cruised the resort lakes,everybody else summer-cruising too,seeing and being seen.We saw it all and got the most looks,for my car was much faster,and my girl, much older.
Then to Godfather’s for pizza and cokes,food forbidden to Grandma at the nursing home,we ordered not a small, not a medium, but a large of everything. That day,
the food was so good,
the iced pop so cold, fizz sparkling in our head,the fields rolling by so green,the lakes so blue with bright white-caps,the sky so blue with white clouds,all the people out living,fat and skinny and old and young, outside, in water, on sand, on boats, on roller coasters,the sun like a bright spotlight from God,brightly illuminating this grand play he had staged.This is how Grandma fell asleep on the car-ride home, at peace,she slept contentedly with a full stomach,the warm sun on her face.
Coming home, we passed the Bergen church,yet I didn’t think that Grandma would lay there one day,for there she was next to me,sleeping calmly and happily from such a full day,a full day of sorrow and joy and sun and wind,blowing blowing blowingas we traveled togetherthe web of long roads that connect us all.