Driving up route 145 north out of colebrook, you’d pass Dostie’s furniture on the right. A long low building sided in vertical boards of a medium blue. Tune up shops, trailers and homes fall away quickly as the road heads uphill faster than you can downshift.
The drive takes you up one of the most beautiful winding drives in New Hampshire, up and up and up. Up through Stewartstown to Clarksville toward Pittsburg.
For the past half hour, before I lost signal, I’d been listening to NPR, coming in tiny aggravating bits, a TED show on storytelling. I hear enough that affirms what I know, how stories inform us, connect us, express our humanness… and even though the sporadic signal is long since gone, an npr-ish narrator remains.
Driving up route 145 out of colebrook…
but it is me,
I am driving,
and I am driving to the cemetery.
This story was supposed to begin like this:
3 ammo boxes, a buddha and some bells.
An empty bag from Dunkin Donuts.
An empty car seat.
A baggie of stale cheerios.
A small painting of a winter sky.
A well-past prime brown eyed susan.
I am in good company I guess, confused company. Bit and pieces that express my life in this instant. This journey today has been a long one, and it has been a long one, and it will be a long one. I realized a while back that grief is a long term partner. It is patient enough to wait out any amount of denial and diversion. It comes up, coughs politely into its hand, just often enough to not forget. Occasionally it moves a doorway so you slam into a wall that was not there the day before, but that, these many years later, just happens sometimes.
I am here with two boxes of Jeff’s things. Things I could not throw away but cannot keep. Things that were personal, intimate. Things that were his. I’ve added some symbolic things too, a fountain pen, an abacus, 3 fly fishing flies (a wooly bugger, blue winged olive and a royal wulff). I’ve added a knot of keys from an old truck. 3 stones. And a note I wrote with a very shaky hand the night before.
The things are in two ammo boxes, a momentary act of brilliance on my part, waterproof, compact, and speaking directly to Jeff’s love of old military equipment, and utilitarian design. He used to have one in his truck for change and the notebook where he fastidiously recorded every gallon of gas purchased, every oil change, every mile driven.
The third box came with my ebay purchase, and I will give it to Peter, the Sexton, whose history in the armed forces has just been revealed to me.
The buddha is in place of a marker I cannot afford.
And the bells, I am not sure what they are for. Movement maybe, movement. Change.
And the flower, if all goes well, will come up again and again and again, spreading its pot bound roots deep into the nearly impenetrable soil that has been loosened, in this moment, by 2 and a half hours of Peter’s patient digging.
Peter is a farmer and an angel. He has dug a million holes. Fence posts and grave markers. The hole where we stand is just one of those million, but the angel in him says that this is the only one that matters, the only one that matters this way, today.
We put the boxes in the bottom and slowly fill the hole with handfuls of soil and rocks while we fill the air with conversation that stretches nearly as far as the sky.
We talk of town politics and god and vietnam, of guns and hospitals, of his wife, and love, and hope.
We talk of things we agree on and things about which we disagree, but I can see how he sees it, if I were standing in his shoes.
He raises heritage chickens and I am raising a spirited child, and his kids are long grown.
We place the buddha and the plant. He places the carefully cut sod. I arrange rocks to hold the bells which do not meet with my hopes for either clear ringing movement or of heavy-bottomed groundedness. Oh well. There are a million things, I know, that are better in theory than in practice.
And then, my nose fully burned, and my hair blown wild by a wind that has kept up with our conversation, we make our way back up the hill. He finds and hands me a turkey feather. We talk about skunks and the divots they’ve left everywhere in the grass.
With a hug, we part, and I walk to my car, stinking of the stale beer I spilled from a can I picked up as trash when I first arrived…my eyes seeking sign of cousins of the bees that flew in fast, as soon as my doors opened, and would not get out until ignored fully, with all the doors open, while I moved boxes and buddha and bells to the site.
It has been an hour and a half. And it has been much longer than that. And I am still 4 hours from home.
The light has changed, and now the hillsides show more glorious color– the air has cleared maybe, and the wind is no longer tossing every leaf upside down.
145 is more beautiful north to south and I creep along, happy that no one is behind me, as I look out over acres of mountain sides, flush with fall color, and the black spears of some sort of evergreen.
I drive home through rain in franconia, hard enough to look like dark coming on.
The down and down and toward home.
Just as it is truly dark, I get out of the car to throw out my donut bag, and my legs are wobbly from the journey.
It feels like so much longer than a day.
I look up at the windows of our apartment, the twinkle lights strung perfectly imperfectly across the glass. It is like coming back from the moon, I imagine, welcoming and strange. And I am both lighter and heavier than I was when I left.