Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Two Women

Recently I stepped into a rural cemetery to see if I could find the gravestone of an old neighbor.

She hasn’t been thought of in such a long time. Suddenly she seemed important to find out about.

It’s as when my sister brought up a forgotten neighbor. It generated much discussion for awhile as we reminisced. We wondered where the family moved and what their further story might be.

The woman whose grave marker I was seeking was largely unknown to us, like the other neighbor thought about out of the blue.

This woman was a widow. She had an adult daughter who wasn’t quite right. I'm sure I was some years along before I realized this. 

A little slow is what she'd have been called. There was kindness if not an actual concept of the nature of her condition. Things like that weren’t talked about. 

She was always with her mother. She was neatly dressed, perfectly polite.

They had a farm off a gravel road we seldom used. I suppose the two coming alone to church Sunday after Sunday made an impression on me.

The mother was well past middle age. She was weathered but not worn down. You felt she could master any situation.

It was a strength held in common with the farm women of her generation. They could meet anything, deal with it and survive. They were very elemental.

She was self-sufficient and sporting as I took her in. She competently drove what surely was a 1946 Hudson sedan.

It was a beauty. It was big old classic. It was recognizable as her car as it turned into the church parking lot.

I recall going by their place one time. The Hudson was poised at the entrance of their long farm driveway as we came along.

Township roads didn't see a lot of traffic. There wasn't a whole lot of passing cars or getting behind a moving tractor. Meeting a car pulled up in a driveway was therefore pretty exciting.

This was as close to a traffic moment as this road had. On top of that we knew the driver. Score another point we thought from out of our admittedly small fund of worldly experience.

The two were on their way somewhere. This seemed neat to me. It was a glimpse of their life which can be like pushing back shutters. A little can reveal a lot.

Mom knew that this woman lived here. For me it was different. The idea of people living separately from the places you associate them with, which was church in this woman's case, was just beginning to sink in.

We were on this particular road so seldom it really was a chance meeting of cars. The flash of her face through the windshield, and the daughter alongside in the front seat, sank in deep.

Their last name, and this one sure memory, is about all I had on her. My family was approached to see what they remembered.They drew blanks. 

Brothers latch on to other things or recall not at all. My sister in this case couldn’t be of help. It was up to me to connect with this person as best the trail led.

The cemetery visited is small as laid out. There are neat rows, not too many, which made the search somewhat simple to carry out.

It’s peopled, if the term is correct, by families known to me. Almost all the names mean something. 

We’re connected by geography, faith and time. We’re largely a flock that hasn’t gone far from home.

The years of birth and dates of passing make the former neighbors a true and ongoing part of the countryside.

Their span of time registered in the churchyard signifies their living years. Remembrance is palpable in the stillness of the green plots aligned within sight of their church.

Emma’s gravestone was come upon as I was entertaining the possibility that her resting spot was elsewhere.

By the dates on her gravestone she lived into her 90s. Helen, whose name I learned along with Emma's, preceded her mother by ten years.

Helen’s birthdate indicates she was born much earlier than I guessed. 

As a girl I assigned no age to this constant companion of her mother. She wasn't a girl even though she had that as part of her. She was a woman who didn't grow old.

She had the same day of birth as one of my brothers. It was noted because common ground suits me.

I think back to those long ago summers. I like to think of a decorated cake set out for Helen in a hot late August kitchen. 

There, and at our place across the lake, it's similarly a day for cake made festive with icing and candles. Mutual birthdays and we had no clue.

You think of folks from your early years, maybe especially those who fill a country church with you. It’s a happy addition to include Emma and Helen among those we once knew.  

Ro Giencke – July 24, 2012




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