One of my dear friends decided to “be Mama” last night and told me to go write. I laughed as I replied, “You know, she’s the one who originally told me to do this. And that’s a story in itself.” So here it is.
Daddy shared a story with me over twelve years ago. I was struggling at work with new tasks that were being added that had nothing to do with taking care of our clients. I called him, frustrated. He told me the story about the founder of the Salvation Army, General Booth, who, in 1910, had failing health and would be unable to attend the convention. Someone suggested he send a telegram to be read to encourage all those who had helped people during the busy holiday season. Knowing funds were limited but wanting to encourage, General Booth sent the following telegram to be read at the convention:
I think it was effective. I know it stuck with my Daddy over the years, and it was how he and Mama lived. I scrawled it boldly on a piece of scrap paper and taped it over my desk. It stayed there until we moved.
Last January when Mama visited the monument business to pick out a headstone for Daddy, I went with her. We sat with the son of our funeral home directors who ran the monument side, a young man the age of my little brother, and looked through book after book. It was overwhelming. Mama knew she wanted something simple, that Daddy would have preferred that. She found one she liked, and we started talking about what to put on it.
“Just his name and the dates,” she said. Quite firmly, I might add.
“But, Mama, that’s all?” I was not happy. “Can’t we put a word on there that means something? Can we at least put ‘Cap’ on there? That’s what most of us called him anyway.”
“No, I’ve talked with your sisters and your brother and they’re all okay with just name and date.”
Well I declare. I started fuming. Traitors. I tried again. I might have whined. Maybe.
“Mama, do you remember that story Daddy told me? I would really like to put ‘others’ on his stone somewhere.” I was thinking of how many markers have “Daddy” or “Beloved” on the stones. “Others” would have been perfect for Daddy.
Mama shook her head. She might have been diminutive in stature, but she made up for it in willpower and strength of spirit.
“But Mama, I have a word picked out for you too. It’s a good one.”
Again, a head shake. Definitely NOT.
So the business of payment and font choices and abbreviating vs. not abbreviating (guess which one I was for) ensued. The young man asked Mama if she would like to go ahead and purchase her marker. She looked over at me.
I shrugged. “Go ahead if you want.”
“Well that way you won’t have to worry about it,” she said, wanting affirmation that I was okay with it.
“No, that way you will have what you want on it and won’t worry that I’m going to put something else on it,” I said. Okay, I huffed. I may or may not have had my arms folded across my chest. Just sayin’.
The young man laughed. Mama signed the paperwork. He told us that her marker would be placed out there at the same time as Daddy’s. It seems that they have a blaster of some sort that they take to the cemetery to add the death date when it needs adding. He chuckled, “And anything else you’d like. There’s a spot down here that would be perfect for another line…..” He looked over with a teasing grin.
I laughed out loud. Mama did her exaggerated sigh and eye roll. “Tara, just tell your stories in a book. You write your book and leave these markers alone. No need to tell them on a headstone.”
I am sure we were entertaining for the young man whose hard job it was to help us honor Daddy and to talk with Mama about her own immortality and need for a marker. I am also sure he’s seen all sorts sitting across the desk from him. He probably thought our relationship was a bit contentious, as I sat there hard-headed, trying every which way to convince Mama to add “others” to Daddy’s marker. And her, just as hard-headed, wanting to keep it simple. But he wouldn’t have been more wrong. That’s what dear friends do–call each other on stuff. And we were good at it. But we loved each other fiercely.
So when we visited Daddy’s grave just two months later on his birthday, our first without him, it was surreal to see Mama’s marker there as well. We planted a tea olive to honor him. (“Daddy, what’s the name of that tree out there that smells so good?” “It’s a tea olive.” “Well, Daddy, all I know is I hope Heaven smells like that.” I reckon he knows now…..) My three each attached notes to balloons and let them go. In the midst of the planting, Mama got tired and had to sit down. She sat down on her marker. It might have seemed irreverent if it had been any of the rest of us. My oldest, Aub, said, “Maemae, that’s the only way I want you using that thing for a good long time.” If only…..
So now it’s time to have the date added to her stone. And I guess for now, I will hold off on adding their special words. I am doing what she said, telling our stories through another venue.
But I hope folks won’t be surprised if one day my stubborn streak kicks in (wonder where I got it from?), and they see me at the country cemetery out at Little Union in Crawford County with a hammer and a chisel. Working on the two stones by themselves over by the woods. Because the stories behind the names and dates are good ones. And I think a good story needs to be shared. Everywhere.
And Mama’s word? Loved. Because she was. And still is.
And I thank her for telling me to write. Love you Mama.