by Janet Gilmore
The weather was so beautiful the other day, I thought I’d go to the cemetery and visit my parents and get them caught up on what’s been going on. Dad died in 2002, mom in 2010.
I took things with me to show them: a copy of my husband Hugh’s new book, my son Andrew’s script, copies of my columns and a picture of a quilt I made — the highlights.
I hadn’t been to the cemetery since my mother died two years ago. I sat on the grass between their graves.
I spoke out loud; at least I think I did.
“Mom, dad, there’s so much to catch up on! Andrew is 25 now. You were right, dad; he was a very serious little boy, now a man. He has a mustache. He still lives with us, and we like it that way. Remember he said he wanted to make people laugh? Well, about two years ago, he started an improv (that’s short for improvisational) comedy group. The members meet at our house every week and record their routines onto the computer. Then Andrew up-loads (transfers) them to the Internet (don’t ask) so that anyone with a computer can listen to them. Pretty amazing, huh?
“He was also in a play! The Wild Thyme Players came to Philadelphia, and Andrew became part of their troupe! You wouldn’t believe him on-stage! He’s a different person! He played a flamboyant Italian wedding planner in the last play, and he spoke loudly; his character was a confident one; he was terrific. You would have been very proud.
“You’ll like this one: the dentist called me a few weeks ago and asked me if I could bring mom in for her check-up. I was startled for a second. Obviously, they didn’t know you had died, mom. I said that I COULD bring her in, but it would be a lot of work to do that, and I didn’t think they’d really want to see you in your present condition. They agreed and hung up.
“Dad, remember when I drove you to the library, and you wrote ‘HI, JAN’ on the dashboard in chalk? Well, I still have the same car, and the message is still there. I like to look at it when I’m in the car. Andrew refreshes the chalk when it fades, so the message is always there. I know it’s time for a new car, dad, but I can’t bear to get rid of mine because of that message.
“I’ve been writing, and sewing. I sent an article about a quilt I made to ‘Threads’ magazine, and they published it! It was so exciting! I’m very involved with making costumes for Stagecrafters Theater. I love it; I love being backstage. Even when the show is a comedy, the funny stuff happens backstage.
“Mom, I wrote a short book called ‘Can I Eat at Your House?’ about growing up on Tulpehocken Street and how any kid on our block could go with any family for any meal at any time. There’s a short story about each of the Courtesy Aunts: who made the best tuna, the best Creamettes (you, of course), the best brownies, etc. I added a recipe with each story and pictures of you all. I think you’d like it. It was kind of hard to write without you around to read it.
“Some of your friends are gone, now, too. Sylvia, Si, Ed and Marilyn all passed away not long ago — all sorely missed. Herbie is still around, and Doris and Aaron are doing well.
And you have two great-grandchildren! A boy, Oliver, and a girl, Addie. We’re all sorry you didn’t get to meet them.
“Guess what? I’m having cataract surgery this week. Left eye. Dr. Bailey. Wills Eye. Yes, I’ll do the other eye, too, maybe later. How about that? I’m finally old enough for something, and it turns out to be cataracts.
“Yes, mom, I’m warm enough. No, not hungry. Nope, definitely not losing weight. And you know, mom, for every question I asked you about your life, there are at least 10 I didn’t think to ask. Now I’ll never know. That’s a shame; isn’t it? I’d love to go back and re-live everything and pay closer attention. After all, you two were my archivists as well as my parents and dear friends, and now you’re gone.
“Well, folks, save a place for me at that tavern at the end of the road. I’ll be there eventually. I miss you.”
I lay down on the grass between the two graves to think about my parents and stare at the sky. I stayed there for a while, but I didn’t cry. I expected to spend the visit sobbing, but in fact I felt a little better.
I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I picked up the things I brought with me, kissed my parents’ tombstones, wrote ‘HI MOM’ and ‘HI DAD’ on the sidewalk next to their graves with a piece of chalk that I had brought. The message should last until the next rain. I got in my car, looked at the ‘HI JAN’ on my dashboard, smiled a little and started the engine.
I had to buy milk and bread on my way home.