Saturday, April 2, 2011

Notes Upon the Passing of Your Grandmother


Dear Hawthorne,

Your random email reminds me of when we drove to my grandmother's funeral five or ten years ago.  It was quiet, overcast, the world a slate gray, the row homes of Reading reflecting the sentinel sky. The cemetery sat precariously on a small hill within the boundaries of the stone church, near the parking lot, overlooking lower part of the town.  I wondered as I stood there, how different was the view from this spot one hundred years earlier, when my ancestors gathered for a  burial in this same place?  I am a Grube, I thought.  This hill is filled with Grubes.  They command the high ground over a sea of poverty, forlorn industrial buildings of red brick and metal in full decay, small coal miner homes, once full of a new age promise, and then half-emptied of men through two world wars, and now filled with low-riders, salsa music, and another foreign language- this one not as willing to fade into the proper English as the previous generations of Dutch melted into the American pot over a century ago.  

We laid her to rest next to her parents.  Her husband, who died in the late sixties from heart failure, is buried on hallowed Jewish ground, protected from heathens like the woman he loved, who loved him- and who never re-married after his passing- out of respect, out of love, out of tradition.  This tradition passes with her too.  Their tradition remains intact, resolute, without compromise.  Their wars will continue too as men force their faith upon others, and wall themselves inside their zealotry, like that cemetery where mortal love receives no respect, even though true love remains is as equally eternal as heaven and damnation combined.  I can not visit my grandfather's grave, as I do not visit his faith and call it my own and I do not appreciate walls around people, living or dead.

Nanny, as she was called, chose cremation, she was a slight woman and her urn was small. The perfectly square hole that was dug in the ground, was as simple and neat as she kept her own house. I suppose she would have enjoyed the symmetry of that. I have a different idea for my own grave. I want to be buried with all my junk, my songs, my instruments, my piles of papers with half-written poems and lyrics, my favorite records, and a spare pair of underwear for the long trip home.  Hire a backhoe and dig out a nice deep hole, like the ones I have climbed into and evaluated for the past twenty years.  A soil scientist should be present to write up the soil log, with all the horizons, texture, and consistency of the soil properly described, and the colors charted from the Munsell Book. I hope I get some good colors, like a 5YR5/8 or a 2.5Y6/3.  Once the log is completed,  drop it on top of my pile of junk, lightly sprinkle with my ashes (maybe you could chart that color too) and then backfill the damn hole and plant a tree, but not a black ash because they are messy.  Plant a tree that is colorful in Autumn and will drop tons of leaves that some poor living bastard will have to rake and remove each year. 

As Nanny's urn lay there, after words were spoken, read from bible verses, and some poetry was offered, my younger brother (who currently despises me with his entire soul and may spit on my ashes if permitted too, if he outlives me- which is dubious considering his bad habits that I no longer share) drops a half-eaten bag of peanut m&m's into the grave and mumbles something about the trip.   I ask him if Nanny liked peanut m&m's and he shrugs and says something like "I don't know, but she'll need them for the trip".  I thought it was borderline appropriate- his way of saying goodbye, perhaps.  

I'll never forget the stunned look on the funeral home attendant's face when little brother dropped that half-empty bag of candy in her teeny barbie-doll grave.  The bag barely fit between the dark urn and the brown side of the hole.  And he dropped it in such a casual way that someone unknowing, like our attendant, might have thought of a deep disrespect- he dumped his trash into the grave of his grandmother!  I understood that look of disbelief and shock, but not well enough.  I wanted to comfort this stranger, tell him this is not what it appears to be. Now I am not so certain. Was there an unspoken truth I was not privy to?   

In recent days, my brother has told me there is only one truth. I do not reply but also know there are million lies that accompany one truth. Together they become an army, ruthless and victorious over the innocent and the guilty.  There is no time for justice in a world at war, there is no time for a common, shared perception of truth.  There is only blood in the river and a river of blood in the street.  Family arguments are petty creations of our own vanity, with pain and suffering too great a symptom for the minor cause.  Besides, Nanny would not approve.

Today, random skies pushed clouds across the hills in angry, black raven shapes.  Grandmothers pass and they take something with them we never had, and something they share only with their grandkids. She made have had that secret with each grandchild, but each one of us treasured ours alone.  Parents might become upset or angry and issue orders to the troops. Nanny would smile and wink at us, and we would rise above the moment- with her. All is not as it seems- she knows something about our parents that we do not. Chuckling softly to herself and winking at us, grandmother points to the dead fuse on wet dynamite.  The troops ignore their leaders, if only for a brief moment in her presence.  

Right into her last years, our Grandmother kept bottles of coca-cola in her refrigerator door- the kind in the greenish tinted bottles, where you needed a bottle opener. The soda always tickled our palette like the first time we ever tasted that sparkling delight and she would smile at us, like it was her first time too.  Grandmothers have that ability to spin magic out of the mundane, to turn a small row house in Reading into a perfect paradise, a fortress from the world at large- where love and safety play on the front porch together.

My condolences to you in your loss.  May you find strength in her love and in all your memories of your grandmother's life where it intertwined with yours.

Deepest Regards,
Melville
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