After church yesterday we tarried a while in the parking lot so my mom and my aunt could talk to the son of a friend of theirs. His father had recently retired, and shortly afterwards was diagnosed with cancer. He was undergoing treatment, but his prognosis was not good. "As they say, Carpe diem
," my mom said. "Seize the day. Here today, gone tomorrow. You just never know."
We dropped my aunt off at her house, and then we had planned to go out to Kmart so I could buy some screwdrivers and pliers at low Father's Day sale prices. As I no longer have a father to buy for, I take advantage of such sales to get stuff I need for myself.
"How about we go for a ride?" I said to my mom as we drove away from my aunt's house. The sun was moving lower in the sky, as it tends to do in the afternoon in mid-June. She agreed, and we were off.
At the bottom of the hill we turned left instead of right. Right would have taken us out of town; left took us to the other end of town, towards the river and the mountains beyond.
A few days before as we were coming back from my nephew's last baseball game in the mountains beyond the river my mom had expressed a desire for ice cream, and a nostalgic regret that an ice cream stand that had been along that road when she was a teenager was now gone. "No problem", I said, and turned from Route 11 onto Route 29, to an ice cream shop that I remembered from my youth. It was along the road to Moon Lake, and we would always stop there on the way home from swimming. I had noticed it the last time I had been on that road and knew it was still there, but it has been about 22 years since the last time I got ice cream there.
"I haven't been on this road in years", my mom said wistfully as we drove through the wooded pass along a creek.
"I used to come this way all the time, after Mass at the Center," I said. "That was back when there was Mass at the Center
. And I would stop at AGWAY
and The House of Nutrition...but now it's just AGWAY
. And I can't really afford to buy much there anymore...or even afford the gas to come out here that much." When gas was 99 cents a gallon I used to make the trip a lot; at $3 a gallon, not so much. "I..took Daddy this way a few times, too," I said. But then we got to the ice cream stand. The lights there were still yellow, as they had always been, giving the world beyond a blue-tinged sense of unreality. We got the ice cream and went home.
Now, two days later, we were headed back that way. "Where are we going?", my mom asked.
"Like you said, seize the day. You said you haven't been this way in years. Who knows, maybe tomorrow you won't be able to make it out here."
We drove North on Route 29, past the ice cream shop and along the winding wooded road. Through dappled sunlight shining through trees, along a creek that was running well below its normal levels. Past my cousin's house, the one who has a school bus and who sustained long-term damage from Agent Orange back in Vietnam. Past the Ceasetown
Dam, past Moon Lake, past Lake Silkworth
- once a popular spot for families to go and enjoy, now entirely privately owned - past all the new development that has sprung up in recent decades, past Pike's Creek Quarry, past Our Lady of Mt. Carmel church, and finally to the point that Route 29 meets Route 118.
We turned right on 118, and drove East past a beer distributor and a low-wattage Christian radio station and the Pike's Creek Family Fun center, where they have go-carts. The road went on and on, along a ridge-and-valley mountain one ridge-and-valley removed from the Susquehanna. We drove through forest and past a large stand of dead trees that appeared to be in a swamp - the aftereffects of an old beaver dam on a creek, perhaps? - and past the mansions and lodges that were appearing on the farmland that I had once looked upon with longing, thinking how nice it would be to buy a little old farmhouse out here. We drove past three Sunoco
stations, one of them closed, and finally made our turn onto Route 415.
Route 415 took us South to AGWAY
. We got there with less than 10 minutes to spare. We picked
up some birdseed - the birds have been eating the cat food my mom has been putting out, and clamoring for more - and some fresh spray concentrate to fight the Black Rot that threatens my grapes.
"Want to go to dinner?" I asked.
We went to Pickett's Charge*, a Civil War-themed restaurant near AGWAY
. It was one of the last places I had taken my father. (But not the
last; that was Red Robin, after taking him to see Revenge of the Sith
.) Prices were high for most things, higher than I remembered, but we managed to find things we liked that weren't too outrageous - I had a bacon cheeseburger with fries for $8.95, and my mom got a Turkey BLT for $7.95. After dinner we went around back and fed the ducks and ducklings with fifty cents worth of feed that I bought from the feed-filled gumball machines.
We continued our descent out of the Back Mountain and back into the Wyoming Valley. We had our choice of Kmarts
- there used to be three in the area, but the one just outside of Nanticoke
closed during Kmart's consolidation a few years ago - and we decided on the Kingston one. This store had been flooded a few years ago and had been mostly rebuilt since then from the inside out. We got the screwdrivers and the pliers and a few other things that were on sale, things that we needed. We checked out and returned to the car, receiving a flurry of cries of "Bye-bye!" from the infant and toddler sons of a woman my mom knows from her chiropractor's office.
"Can we go to the cemetery now?", she asked.
It wouldn't be the first cemetery we went to that day. A few hours before church, after my younger nephew's T-Ball game, we took a detour to the old cemetery where my grandmother's parents are buried. It's a ridiculous, improbable cemetery, built into the side of a hill, and you practically need climbing equipment to get to some of the graves. This had been a part of our regular Sunday cemetery visits when I was young, but I hadn't been there in decades. I was worried that the last people who knew where this grave was would pass beyond the veil without communicating this knowledge
to the younger generations. We found the grave fairly easily, and I noted the spot with landmarks: a straight line between these
two crypts, lined up with the second tree from the end over there
The cemetery we were going to now was the one where my father is buried, and my grandfather and grandmother, and my stillborn brother, the twin to my younger brother. My uncle is there, too, the one who died hours before Haley
, and my grandmother's sister and brother, too.
We stopped at a spigot as we drove through the cemetery, and my mom filled the water bottles she keeps in the trunk of her car. She watered the flowers that she has carefully planted around the tombstone. A spot for my aunt awaits her next to my uncle. A spot for my mother awaits her next to my father....we don't know
just where our bones will rest;
to dust, I guess
forgotten and absorbed
to the Earth
I don't know where I will be buried. There's space available there at the family plot, several spaces. But a lot can happen between now and the time I die. I may be living somewhere far, far away. Or I could die before I even finish this post. Who can say?
But my mom knows. In a few years, or a few decades, she will be buried there, in that spot. She can walk on the spot where she will be planted. She knows.
I find it a strangely comforting thought to know where the bones of my father and my grandmother are. I can imagine that they will always be there, though I know that someday that land may be needed for something other than a bone garden. But there is something about the certainty of knowing where they are, and where my mom will be.
We went home as the setting sun turned the clouds above into a symphony of purple and gold.*The name of this restaurant always screwed me up as a kid. Pickett's Charge, we learned in school, was the farthest Northerly advance made by the Cofederate Army in the U.S. Civil War. They made it all the way up to Dallas?, I would think. Wow.
Title reference: line from Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place) by Talking Heads from the album Speaking in Tongues. Excerpt above is from 1979 by Smashing Pumpkins from the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (not Siamese Dream as was previously stated.)