We visited a graveyard over the weekend to see my grandparents’ burial stone. (Is it a tombstone? Is it a burial marker? I have no idea what morticians call it.) The stone is something like polished pink granite with 100-point chiseled font, a smooth front and rough edges. Since its installment in 1985, the stone has held up rather well. A few patches of stubborn lichen touch some of the letters. I brushed off the dried vegetation with my fingers. Nothing like a little family maintenance. I know that Grammy and Granddad would approve!
Your mind wanders in a place full of dead people. Tombstones are like miniature buildings in neat little rows, stretching out to the edge of a property. You worry about stepping over someone on your way to visit a relative. You don’t know anything about mortuary etiquette. The hulking SUV you rode into the cemetery is way too big for an internal road built in the late Nineteenth Century. You feel embarrassed about that.
The graveyard was more active than I imagined. Up the hill, landscapers fidgeted with a leaf blower. On the adjacent path, some kids used a path as a shortcut on their way home from school. There were lovely homes across the street: whole generations raised, moved, and perished on the outskirts of a resting place that never changed. There’s something dismal and tragic about cemeteries in New Orleans where the force of mammoth Katrina ripped caskets right out of the earth. The buried should stay buried, and even a mighty storm should respect that.
My dad carried out his parents’ burial wishes in 1985 and 1994 but has no interest in joining them. He grew up not far away, across the street from a fishing pier where he became a man. The sea offered him friendships and adventures, and that’s where his heart will be found. He’s left instructions with his sons: after his cremation, my brother and I will scatter his ashes off the fish pier and hope to Christ we aren’t caught. Again, I think Grammy and Granddad would understand.