by Patricia Merewether
I practically ran the six blocks from my elementary school to our street. I was ten years old. Two events made it nearly impossible for me to focus on the chalkboard or Sister Grace Esther’s lessons that day. The first was that my grandmother waited for me; she’d taken a Greyhound bus from Pittsburgh all the way to our house in Detroit to spend the week with us. But the best thing was that Mom was bringing my new brother home from the hospital. I’d always wanted a brother or sister, like other kids, and now he was coming home!
I turned the corner to see Grandma, her white curls, blue housedress, and sturdy black grandma Shoes, pacing at the end of the driveway. That seemed odd, but I was so excited to see her that I ran even faster, calling “Grandma!” I ran to her so fast that I nearly knocked her over with my hug. But as I grinned up at her, her face looked strange. Her gray eyes didn’t crinkle in smile lines like they usually did and her chin was shaking. She looked so sad.
She said, “Patty, your brother died.”
“Your Mom and Dad had to take him back to the hospital and there was something wrong with his heart. I’m so sorry.”
That’s where the memory always fades to black. I don’t remember a thing until we drove through the cemetery. I remember the little fancy houses that I later learned were mausoleums. I wondered if the man in the news, whose name sounded the same, lived in them. Then the car drove to the very back of the cemetery, where the chain-link fence was, just like ours at home. We got out of the car and walked toward a little crooked pine tree. It was about the same size as me. I wondered how such a crooked little tree could be so green and healthy looking.
At the base of the tree lay the flat, cold-looking stone with Matthew Richard Bamford and dates carved into it. The thought of my baby brother in a box under the ground proved too much for me and I ran back to the car. I met deep, painful sorrow, a feeling that rivals the cancer and other surgeries I’d have over my lifetime.
I grew up and married. My parents moved to another state. Many years later, my dad drove back to Michigan to visit. He and I went to the cemetery. I was amazed that the little crooked tree had grown taller, as had I, so the effect threw me back to that first visit.
When we looked for the stone, it was gone. How could that be? Who would take a plain, flat, simple marker from an infant’s grave?
Dad’s knees were bad. He just stared at the spot, tears rolling down his weathered cheeks. I knelt, placed my hand where it had been, and felt something hard beneath the grass.
“Dad! It’s here. The grass has just grown over it. Give me your pocketknife!”
I carefully cut all the way around the edges, then lifted the small green carpet of turf away and laid it aside. We stared down at the carved letters. I poured my bottle of water over it and wiped it clean with my tissues. It looked as new and fresh as that first day!
When it was time to go, I lifted the rectangle of grass to carry it to the trash. My dad said, “Patty, look!”
He pointed to the bottom of the mass of roots. The soil and water had pulled them into the carvings. There, in what looked like cursive because of the way the roots connected the letters, was a perfect copy, in reverse, of my brother’s name formed by nature and time. I felt a little chill and a presence. I looked around as if expecting to see the little boy that never was.
Patricia Merewether is an artist and writer. Her articles and short stories have appeared in magazines such as Country Folk Art, Greenprints and Western Lifestyles. Her paintings are available on her facebook page Patsarts and on Zazzle.com. She lives in rural Michigan with her husband, two rescue pups, and about a dozen stray cats that she feeds twice a day.
About the Death’s Garden project:
For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation. The submissions guidelines are here.