There are three cemeteries serving this town. The Lutheran cemetery is just off Highway 2 and shudders while the oil trucks roar by. The Catholic cemetery is almost a mile behind it, looking down on the highway, the reservoir, and of course, the Lutherans. And 10 – 12 miles north of town is Rainbow Valley Lutheran Church, where despite the fact that no one in my family went to church there since the 60s, all of my people are there. One of my cousin’s husbands once said, “this is the most peaceful resting place in the world. I’m going to be happy being buried here”. Except of course he divorced my cousin and his entry form is going to be a little bit suspect.
In about 1987, when I was working in Bismarck and Carjo was still in our house in Ray, she’d drive out to the Catholic cemetery with our young dog. It was a quiet place for her to just chill, blast Randy Travis or George Strait, and let the dog burn off some energy. So when she said “drive me to the cemetery” a few nights ago I knew which one she meant.
We had picked up food to go in a neighboring town and though it was 9:00 pm, it was still daylight. We threw potato gems to the gophers, listened to our beloved meadowlarks (and believe me, when you haven’t heard a meadowlark in almost 20 years that plaintive cry can all but make you weep), and walked the grounds.
The headstones were a little disconcerting for me. I knew most of the family names of course; I always have. But to see so many of my friends’ parents names carved on them was a shock. That whole generation that fathered the baby boom is slipping away now. There’s more of them below the soil they loved than above it. And then I saw the name of a guy who was a couple years older than me, buried right next to his dad. He farmed with his father and the two were practically inseparable. I can picture them walking into my dad’s office; grinning with mischievous intent. Where in the hell has all the time gone in my life.
I don’t have a real sense of mortality in me. I do not fear death but I do feel I have unfinished business. Perhaps the urgent need to keep hammering away on my book really is my sense of mortality. But I do not fear the end. I know where I will end up: on the south side of a little church on the prairie, surrounded by my people and listening to the meadowlarks with my wife.