As I write, it is Sunday, Memorial Day weekend. I'm alone in the house as my son is with his Dad and Mr. Man is working. My windows and doors are open wide, my stereo is keeping me company with the most beautiful voices in God's creation, (IL Divo) and I'm fully engulfed in one of those burning and all too rare moments in life when everything makes sense. I'm positive at this moment that I could simultaneously discover a cure for cancer and heal the lame if my Yorkie weren't distracting me by biting my fingers as I type.
As a child Memorial Day meant cousins and cakes and corn on the cob and plastic carnations that smelled faintly of cigarette smoke. It was wearing corsages to church that Grandpa bought you because you were his girl. It was a deep and peaceful sense of belonging in the midst of comfortable love from relatives you didn't see often enough. It was vivid tales of precious ones who had gone on,told under the giant oak tree between sips of sweet tea and long draws on Lucky Strikes and Virginia Slims.
It was a profound sense of knowing and gratitude uncommon in little girls. At fifteen, Memorial Day was the first time I could hear the faint ticking of life's clock echoing somewhere in the distance, whispering a reminder that sweet moments such as these pass like a breath. Before I had the capacity to understand it or the maturity to forgive it, there were no more stories, no more plastic carnations and no more Virginia Slims.
I breathed in and I was there. I exhaled and I am here.
So much time has passed and yet it was just yesterday. Paw-Paw would wake up early so as to get to the cemetery and carefully place flowers on the graves of everyone to whom he and Maw-Maw had ever been related. As a little girl it seemed to me Memorial Day was like Christmas for dead people. The object was to get up early before they woke up and leave them pretty, plastic flowers so they'd be surprised.
After church, but before the car loads of southern relatives would arrive for supper, we'd walk around the cemetery and sort of say hello to everyone. It didn't matter that they were six feet under. Some of my most polite conversations have been with dead relatives. On the off chance that we came upon a grave of a relative I had not previously met, my grandparents naturally would introduce me.
"Aunt Vernie, this is Sherri, Sybil's girl," Maw-Maw would say. "Sherri, your Aunt Vernie is your great, great, great Aunt on your Paw-Paw's side."
"Sherri, now this feller right here is some of your Maw-Maw's people," Paw-Paw explained. "He was just a young man when he went home to be with Jesus. Got the fever and just never did get no better."
I never thought it was at all odd that I met a great deal of my relatives long after they were dead. In my family dying didn't mean you stopped being an important part of life.
Equally important to the Willis' and Petty's on Memorial Day was the food. Maw-Maw and I would spend all day Saturday cooking in preparation of the Day of the Dead while Paw-Paw ran back and forth to town to buy parts for the lawnmower that never worked more than ten minutes at a time.
When I was a little girl, I didn't so much cook as I did "steer" things that needed stirring. As I got older and learned to cook, I sometimes made a dish all on my own. Maw-Maw thought everything I did was nothing short of brilliant so it wasn't uncommon for her to become so emotional over a cake I'd made that she'd call every relative we had to prepare them for the shock and awe they would surely experience when they first got a look at my Bundt on the table.
Next thing you know, everyone she had called would call back within a matter of hours and ask to speak to me so that they could express their genuine excitement at the very thought that they were going to be in the same house with me and my Bundt. "Your Maw-Maw says she's never seen anything so perty in her life. I'm calling your cousins to tell them to hurry home from church so they don't get over there after it's done been cut."
No sooner than I would hang up from all my Bundt fans then I'd hear, "Daddy," which was Maw-Maw's pet name for Paw-Paw, "run get the camera and take a picture of this cake. Nobody will ever believe how perfect it is. It's just too perty to eat." If I had actually ever done anything worthy of all that praise, my entire family would have had a collective stroke. I could have easily killed off the whole clan with just one spectacular accomplishment.
I have only my grandparents to blame for my current and unnatural need to be adored. When you are immersed in such adoration as a child, how can you settle for anything less as an adult?
Sweet memories. Flashes in time. Beautiful, perfect love.
No plastic flowers, no long walks in a North Carolina cemetery and not a Bundt cake in sight. This is my memorial. I love you...always.
Copyright Â© 2004-2005, Sherri Bailey
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