A hot August day. Beth and I bide our time letterboxing in a new corner of the world while Mrs. Mack505 is otherwise engaged.
John Cleese guides us in his clipped, efficient Britishness, to a town so small that it has no numbered routes. Our endpoint lies in an old cemetary, pedantically named The Old Cemetary. We park just inside the gates. Strangely in this case, the newest graves are near the front, becoming progressively older as you pass among the stones.
As we step from the truck, my eyes are drawn immediately to the stone at my feet. He’s a firefighter from a local city, dead at the age of 65. My first thought is that he never got to enjoy retirement. Then I notice his wife’s stone next to him. She predeceased him. Perhaps they’re enjoying retirement after all.
I find cemetaries to be fascinating places. Each stone represents a story, a biography, a life. We pass among the stones, noting a few on the way to our quest. The stamp lies hidden in a shady corner, peacefully away from the hustle and noise of the street.
On the walk back to the truck, Beth notices another stone. “Dad, a book!” She runs over to the shiny, modern headstone and demands that I read her the inscription. Teacher – Traveller – Historian. Died in 2002 at the age of 58. There is definitely a story here; probably there are many stories here. We will never know them.
As we turn the truck to leave, I’m drawn to another modern stone. This one is large and shiny, with one full name on it. It’s not a family stone; it’s a monument to one person. It is engraved with a picture of a boy on a swing, and its face carries a poem. The dates are less than five years apart.
Beth insists that I read her the poem, and I do so with a hitch in my voice. I defy any parent to stand in front of that stone and not be moved. Though I will never know the boy or his family, I can feel a reflection of their pain.
As a six year old, she has a concept of mortality. I still don’t want to disturb it with the idea that children younger than her die. (Heck, the idea disturbs me.) We drive away, and I try to explain it away lightly. “Maybe it was cancer. Sometimes it happens.”
Beth chimes right in, “Or something bad happened?”
I follow her lead. “Right. Like maybe he drowned, or was in a car crash.”
She splits a big grin. “Maybe it was a shark!”
Here I am worried about the fragile psyche of my little princess, and she’s cracking jokes to cheer me up. I think she’ll be OK.