Whistling Past the Graveyard

When I was little I used to go to the cemeteries with my Grandma and Grandpa Knutzen and my Uncle Billy to put flowers on graves or water the flowers as the little weeds were pulled and the bird droppings were washed away. There was a pump or a spigot at the cemeteries for folks to get water to care for the flowers planted on the plots. They would pack up some rags for wiping, tools of gardening, the light blue plaid car blanket and the all important snacks with their little me.

Grandma would have a quart jar of apple juice or water and gingersnaps to  pacified me though I remember her indulging too. She and I would sit in the backseat together and Grandpa and Billy would be in the front. It seemed like we drove such a long way to these plots and now discover I can easily get there in 30 minutes. I don’t think I was ever allowed to ask, “Are we there yet?” I always thought it was strange that Grandma rode in the back always, but sometimes I would wiggle up and sit on the arm rest for a different look, but soon returned to the more comfortable and calm grandma. She looked too alone back there and besides, she was so good to me.

As we drove they pointed out the farms where they were raised and told stories about how the train would stop to pick up my grandma to take her to parochial school. We drove on the marsh road that ran along the “Rat River”. They were used to the name and chuckled when I thought it was a horrible name for a river. They soon explained that it referred to muskrats not the rats that I had imagined. I still thought that something more non-rodent like would have been a better choice, but then again we are surrounded by the Fox and the Wolf Rivers, all names that clearly define the animals that were once very plentiful in this area.

Sometimes we would stop at the farm of my grandma’s best friend Nina and her husband Ed. They were delightful. Nina was tiny, even smaller than Grandma and Ed towered over all of us, though his way was what Grandma referred to a jolly. They would welcome me and Ed would come and sit so close that he sat on the hem of my dress. I would scoot over and he would do it again until he got everyone’s attention to my reaction. They were always kind and would ask me about my mother. Grandma said they didn’t have any children of their own and how sad that was as they would have made wonderful parents. She seemed to be right as I looked forward to seeing them.

When we went visiting like that there was the initial attention and then after that is when my job was to sit still and listen to the grown-ups talk. After many such listens I came to hear the same sir names and first names over and over. That is what I made up for myself to listen for while I was to be seen and not heard. Minckler, Relien, Seager, Hackett, Morrow, Ella, Pauline, Donald and Carl.

When we got to the cemetery we would get out and the grownups would dead head the geraniums, water them and pull the weeds. They picked the lichen from the stones where they had grown while I tried not to step in front or the back of the stones as I knew that my dead relatives were under there somewhere. Sitting on other tombstones was not done, but tracing my finger on the dates and the foreign words was something I could do. Grandma would tell the story of her little brothers that died of diphtheria long before she was born. Then I noticed other families graves with stones that had baby angels on them. My young mind could not think that a child would have died. At that time I was not aware of a friend or neighbor child that had passed. Ah, youth.

This cemetery visiting is something that comes up in conversations frequently with my friend. She is a hospice nurse and stands with others on the cusp of death all the time. I cannot think of anyone better to have them be with.

Just yesterday she talked about her family’s plot and where her remains would go. I drove her passed where we were considering being planted. We talked about funeral homes and cremation, how many generations it takes until there is no one to bother with where we are, and how much land is used for placements. This talk comes naturally to us as we have gone to many cemeteries and have buried out dads and grandparents. Are we whistling in the graveyard, meaning that we have a casualness while confronting fear?

I don’t think that either one of us is fearful of what comes after life here. Maybe we are like my dad who said, “I am not afraid to die. I just don’t want to be here when it happens.” That life draining out is most likely the hard part as sometimes it is painful and we will be sad to see the worried faces of those that remain. For those of us who remain we don’t want to see our loved ones in pain. Plus we know we will miss them.  Talking about it is good. Planning for it is better. Dwelling on it is a waste of time as we have some living to do, but it is never far from our thoughts and seems to be creeping into more of our conversations. It is like a whisper of a whistle now pretty much all of the time.

One thought on “Whistling Past the Graveyard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s