Heavy Hearts

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is my thoughts on the day we laid my grandfather to rest.

Submitted: January 14, 2012

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Submitted: January 14, 2012

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We got there early that morning.  We arrived separately but only moments apart. Neither of us wanting to be the cause for delay.  It was cold and rainy.  We went into the house, said our hellos, and sat down in the heavy anticipation.  No one talked about what was to happen later that morning.  We just waited. Mammaw offered all of us food, numerous times, but who could eat.  Our stomachs were in knots. No we don’t want a cinnamon roll, toast, eggs, or cereal.  Okay, I’ll take coffee. I did sleep only two hours last night.

Finally, about 8:25, Daddy went to the phone book, found the number, and dialed the number.  He stated who he was and what he wanted, paused, then in confusion he asked, “What?” Another long pause. “Okay,” and he hung up.He stood there a moment holding the phone and looking down at the island bar in the dark kitchen.  I watched him, trying to read the previous conversation from his demeanor.  He shook off the immediate confusion and placed the handset back on the phone cradle.  Turning back to us, he could see us all in the living room since it is basically one big room.  He braced himself back on the island bar.  No one asked what was said. We just sat watching him and waiting for him to tell us.


“They say they have to wait until the mail comes about 8:30.  He is coming through the U.S. Postal Service.”  Daddy grabbed his jacket and went out on the back porch to smoke a cigarette.  He left the rest of us in the living room dumbfounded.  “At least UPS isn’t going to deliver him here at home,” I thought.  Daddy left the back door open and kept poking his head back in.  We all began making jokes about Pappaws last use of the Federal Government.  After a few minutes, Daddy says, “I’m not sure many people would find this very humorous.”  I told him that I’m not sure I find it humorous.  My sister adds in, “But what else can you do?”

Soon we calmed down into the same old somber anticipation.  Chrissy went to lie down in the bedroom.  Daddy roamed in and out periodically smoking a cigarette and getting more coffee.  I sat on the couch looking around.  I hadn’t been here in a year and a half.  Nothing had changed. Everything had changed.  I think there were new coffee and side tables, and Pappaw’s chair was now a brown leather recliner.  There were a few less knickknacks sitting around.  None of that changed anything.  That still left it Mammaw and Pappaw’s house.  But there was no booming voice calling out, “Boy, you want some breakfast?”  Or the smell of old man cologne wafting through the house.  There was no old man ambling up the hall way, then sitting heavily in his recliner to watch the courtroom shows.  That made it just Mammaw’s house.

He died. He was old.  He had been sick a long time. And yeah, he was ready to go.  He told Mammaw he was.  He told her he was tired.  He told her he loved her and always had.  Then he went to sleep.  He died.

Pappaw was the biggest man in the world.  He could do anything.  Even after eighty-six years and sickness that made him weigh less than me.  He was my hero.  He could do no wrong.  No, I’m not delusional.  I know he was human and that he had his faults, great and small.  But you don’t change a little girl’s love of her grandfather just by growing her up.

I don’t like the house anymore.  I don’t want to sit in his chair and I don’t want to go into his bedroom because he isn’t there watching a ballgame.

I look around the house to find something that makes it all okay. There is nothing.  Daddy comes back inside and goes back to the phone.  All I hear is, “Okay,” and he hangs up the phone.  The mood in the house immediately changes.  Somehow Chrissy and I know it is time to go.  Chrissy changes clothes.  She doesn’t want to ruin her tennis shoes and jeans I guess.  I get my jacket on and so does Daddy.  Chrissy comes back into the living room in her new outfit.  I make fun of it for lack of better things to say.  Daddy hugs his wife, they mumble things to one another and then Daddy and Chrissy go outside. I walk towards the door, then remember something.  I turn back to the kitchen and grab a couple Ziploc bags and my backpack.  Then hurry out the door.  Daddy is carrying the posthole digger and Chrissy has the spade.  They are loading them into the back of Daddy’s van.  I go around to the passenger side and slide open the door and climb in.  “Bet Chrissy didn’t think I’d let her sit in the front,” I think to myself. 

We head to town.  Daddy talking all the way.  He feels we are doing the right thing.  Pappaw wouldn’t have it any other way.  He knows it is odd and people don’t understand, but it is what Daddy promised Pappaw.  Daddy has said all of this a few times since Pappaw died.  Sometimes it seems he is trying to convince us, and at others he seems to be trying to convince himself.  It doesn’t matter either way.  We were on our way.

It’s a pretty quick trip, and soon the funeral home loomed in front of us.  Daddy had asked what we should do with him.  I said I would hold him.  Chrissy didn’t speak.  I understand.  We park in the parking lot.  The one where we have parked so many times before when uncles and aunts and cousins had died.  Chrissy stays in the van. I tell her she looks too crazy in her outfit to be seen in public.  She forces a laugh. 

Daddy and I go into the business office.  Two ladies are there at their desks.  The whole office is cluttered and messy.  One lady is on the phone talking about charges.  I try to ignore her but I can’t help but notice her hair and how that this area of the South has to be the only place that women wear that style.  I move on.  The other lady with long hair picks up the phone and tells the receiver that Mr. Smith is here.  She hangs up.  Daddy asks if there are any flowers that we can pick up.  She said she would find out.  She picks up the phone and asks the receiver.  “Okay,” she hangs up the phone again.  Daddy goes outside to smoke a cigarette.  This can’t be easy for him.

The long-haired lady looks at me and tells me there are two arrangements and she will go get them.  I follow, letting Daddy know as we pass him standing in the rain.  We walk into the funeral home that I have been in so often.  The lady stops at a closet and hands me two flower arrangements.  She leads me back out.  Daddy opens the back of the van and we place the flowers in around the shovel and posthole digger.  He had asked the long-haired lady about the flag.  She went to find out.  I go back into the funeral home and I’m met by a pleasant looking man holding a folded American flag.  He indicates the envelope on top holds the death certificates.  I take the flag cautiously.  I’m not sure why. It just felt necessary.  I walk back out into the rain trying to keep the flag dry.  I tell Daddy that the envelope is the death certificate, walk over to the van, open Chrissy’s door and hand her the flag.  “You get to hold these.”  I shut her door.  As I walked back towards the back door of the funeral home another pleasant looking man in a tie comes back out holding the black box.  He says something. I didn’t listen. I just reached out and took a hold of my Pappaw.  It had to be him. The small, black, plastic box had a label on it that read, “Vernie Smith.”  I held him to me.  Then I realized the man in the tie was leading us back into the funeral home because “someone needs to sign.”  We walk in.  Daddy signs the paper and the man in the tie hands him Pappaw’s glasses case.  For a second I think, “Why was that here?”  The thought flitters away.

We walk back through the rain and get into the van.  I climb up in the van clenching Pappaw to me.  I sat him on my lap and put both arms around him.  Like all those times he held me.  The memories came flooding back.  The tears quietly started falling.  No one spoke.  The next step was going to be the worst.  I looked out the side window and saw nothing except all the scenes from my childhood that left me feeling safe, secure, and loved.  I realized I would never have my safe place again.  It was in the cold, hard box on my lap.  I cried and cried.  No one spoke. 

We made it to the cemetery. Daddy and Chrissy hopped out quickly.  They unloaded the tools.  I sat in the van trying to figure out how to wrap an Arkansas flag around a small, plastic box that is holding one of the most precious things in the world. The box was smooth; the flag was slippery.  After three attempts, I placed Pappaw on the seat so that he would stay dry and warm.  How absurd.

I got out of the van. It had stopped raining.  Thank God for that.  Daddy had started working on the hole.  It was to be next to Mammaw’s parents.  I didn’t know them but I felt the history.  After a few digs, Daddy was panting.  Chrissy told him over and over we would help.  He ignored her.  He needed to do this.  He asked a couple of times if the hole was big enough to hold the box.  I finally figured out he wanted to see for himself.  I wiped my eyes and went and got Pappaw out of the van.  I wrapped the flag tighter around him.  It was still cold and windy outside.  I handed him to Daddy who lowered him face down into the hole just to measure.  It looked big enough so he gave him back to me.  I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him to my body.  This isn’t right.  I shouldn’t have to bury my hero. 

Daddy is on his knees now trying to dig.  He keeps panting, sweating, shaking. He is tired. His back hurts.  I think, “I hope he doesn’t have a heart attack out here.”  But I know he isn’t going to give the digging over to us.  He has to do it.  For himself, and Pappaw wouldn’t let his boys do the digging either.  Daddy had to do it.  He dug down and decided it was deep enough.  It was supposed to be twenty-four inches.  But maybe the bottom of the hole was too narrow.  He reached for the box.  He positioned it correctly, then lowered it down.  The hole was too narrow.  He lifted the box back up and laid it on the ground, getting the flag dirty.  Chrissy snatched it off the ground and began dusting off the mud.  I agreed, but also knew how unnecessary it was.  Daddy finished the hole.

He panted for a few minutes then asked who wanted to put him in.  Chrissy was holding him.  I shrugged.  I would do it, but I gave her the chance.  She said she would.  Chrissy knelt down on her knees and folded the flag smoothly around the box.  She then lowered the box into the hole.  She sat back onto her heels.  Daddy asked us something about being ready to cover.  We mumbled.  What else do you say?  He got the shovel and placed a bit of dirt in the hole.  I fell to my knees sobbing and began gently raking dirt over my Pappaw.  I watched my hands, my little hands cover this man with dirt.  Chrissy quickly followed me.  Daddy stopped with the shovel saying he didn’t want to get our fingers with it.  It filled up too quickly.  I kept raking dirt in the hole.  I couldn’t help but think, “I haven’t ever buried any of my dogs, how am I doing this?”  It hurt.  My heart was pouring out.  I mixed tears with dirt and made a mud that now sits on top of my Pappaw.  Daddy at one point said, “If this isn’t love, I don’t know what is.”  They stopped.

I grabbed a handful of dirt and watched my Dad step on the hole to pack the dirt down.  That shouldn’t happen.  Daddy asked if we wanted some time alone.  I shrugged but didn’t move except to clinch the dirt a little harder.  Chrissy walked away.  Daddy put the tools back in the van and lit another cigarette.  I paced.  I sobbed.  I walked around and around the hole.  I told him I loved him.  He knew that.  I squeezed the dirt in my hand.  My hands.  I looked down.  They were covered with dirt and mud.  The same that were covering Pappaw.  I cried.

I walked to the other side of the van and Chrissy took my place.  She spent her time with him.  Daddy breathed hard sitting on the bumper of the van.  Chrissy stood perfectly still looking down at the hole and cried.  I walked the opposite direction still clutching the dirt.  Daddy took Chrissy’s place.  I don’t know what he said to him.  I don’t want to know.  I went back and climbed in the van.  I shut the door and found a tissue.  My hands were still coated with dirt so I was careful not to get dirt on anything.  My clod of dirt had become a hard, little ball.  I carefully placed it in the Kleenex.  Daddy and Chrissy got in the van and asked if we were ready to go.  We just nodded.

The rest of the day went on.  We ate.  People visited.  I went to my friends’ house for some healing.  I needed to be with them.  I feel they are a part of me.

 

I woke up.  Yesterday was the worst day of my life and today wasn’t going to be much better.  My Mom and I had to pick up the spray of flowers to go over the hole.  That is after I wait for her to get her nails done.  It was a very uncomfortable hour.  What do you do?  I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to sleep.  But I have to be out at the cemetery early to deliver flowers.  We get the flowers.  The florist didn’t take the time I would have.  Probably no one would have done it well enough for me.  Everyone else said they were beautiful or very nice.  Whatever. 

We got to the cemetery first.  It was raining.  I didn’t care.  Momma asked if I wanted the umbrella.  I shook my head and closed her truck door.  I walked alone to the hole.  I apologized to Pappaw for stepping on the dirt covering him but I wanted to be sure that the flower sat flat and wouldn’t move around.  I placed the flowers over the hole.  It disappeared.  There were just flowers now indicating a man who lived eighty-six years, a veteran of WWII, and retired from the National Guard and International Paper.  A man who loved his wife, children, and grandchildren so much.  There were only red, white, and blue flowers there now.  I hate flowers.

People started coming.  His brothers and sisters.  Cousins and friends.  When Mammaw showed up the crowd parted to allow her to get to the honored seat in the front.  I sat behind her.  My cousin began the service by singing “Amazing Grace.”  Pappaw would like that.  Then her brother, one of my other cousins, started the service by reading the obituary.  Why do they do that?  We know he is dead.  We know his family. We are his family.  Oh well.  He continued speaking.  It started raining again.  I watched Mammaw.  She seemed to begin shrinking inside her coat.  I think she cried.  She hadn’t cried yet.  She shook her head and grew a little in the coat.  She was done.  My cousin performed a beautiful, personal service.  An old man who served with Pappaw presented Mammaw the folded American Flag.  It was over.  No one knew what to do.  My cousin dismissed us.  After a few awkward moments, Daddy stood and thanked everyone for coming.

I stood up so everyone else would.  The crowd moved slowly to the hole.  Everyone circled the hole making a type of canopy with their umbrellas.  I was the last to arrive because I walked with Mammaw carrying the umbrella to cover her.  Her walker had trouble going over the uneven ground.  I don’t think it was raining, but I wouldn’t take the umbrella down for anything.  I was covering her, protecting her.  Again the crowd parted to give her entrance to the honored spot.  I stood behind holding the umbrella.  No one spoke.  What do you say?  Someone placed a little American Flag in the ground around the flowers.  The flags that someone had passed out before the service.  Others followed.  We all stood and looked at the flowers. No words. Eventually,  people started to walk away.  I went and got the van, so Mammaw wouldn’t have to stand anymore. It was over—nothing left to do out here.  I left the umbrella with Daddy.  I didn’t want one.  I didn’t care if it was raining.  I walked across others long gone and drove my Pappaw’s van to pick up the love of his life.  I parked.  Got out.

People were talking now, but I didn’t hear what they were saying.  I went over to Mammaw.  I wanted her to leave now.  She shouldn’t be standing there in the rain and cold on uneven ground.  She was stuck talking to someone who had no concern for any of these things.  She was too concerned with her own problems.  It bothered me that Mammaw was holding her own umbrella.  She was using her newly-healed broken wrist.  The talker didn’t care.  I stood quietly behind until my step Mom came over and told Mammaw it was time to leave.  I moved Mammaw away from the talker and led her to the van.  I helped her in and shut the door.

I turned back to the hole.  Everyone was gone.  Momma was walking back toward her truck.  I lingered over the hole for a few more minutes.  I don’t know if it was raining.  I couldn’t be strong anymore.  Mammaw and Daddy were gone.  The mourners and snifflers were gone.  I began crying.  I said good bye to the hole.  To the small black box that didn’t weigh enough to be my Pappaw.  I walked back to Momma’s truck with a heavy heart, sobbing.  Oh, that is why the box isn’t heavy. He isn’t in there. I was carrying him away with me, as so many others were.  The heaviness in my heart.  That’s where he is.


© Copyright 2017 Casey Sue. All rights reserved.

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