Monday, October 17, 2011

Memorials

Bahama Blue. Blue Pearl. Dakota Red. North American Mahogany. Finland Red.

They're the names of tombstones. Types of granite to be precise. Bahama Blue is wavy and a bit less lustrous. The others are dappled in a variety of colors from dark blue to pinkish red. They look a bit like the granite you might have in your kitchen, gleaming slabs of rock straight and upright, with a six inch base and an eighteen inch pedestal by rule. If you take the samples, you can wander the cemetery and look for matches. You'll find some. Flat grey is far and away the most popular, a faint shimmer distinguishing it from concrete. The lighter pink comes next, scattered amongst the grey. Less common are the darker reddish colors, dappled with more gray. Not quite red, more maroon. Perhaps one in twenty. Rarer still are the blues, perhaps one in one hundred. The waves of the Bahama Blue are particularly uncommon, we didn't see any. It's an odd sort of shopping experience, walking samples from monument to monument, trying to find a match. One group of four headstones in North American Mahogany contains an entire family, two boys and their parents. Only one has passed, a young boy about a year old. It seems odd that they wanted to bury his brother there as well, until you realize they were twins.

I never gave much thought to what my headstone would look like. I assumed my children would pick it out, along with my grave, sometime after I died. I never thought of picking colors, or had time to parse out the differences between ordering domestic granite or international granite. I figured I'd be past caring by then. I am 27 years old and until recently felt comfortable allowing a few decades before the question entered my decision making.

I never thought that Kara and I would ever have to make this decision for James. Even after James died, the reality of decisions like that always lacked context. You simply have no knowledge of the process. After walking around the cemetery for a bit before dusk, we settled in on one of the blues. It will take a while to get in. We have time to wait.

The reality of course is that all of these decisions become necessary. Despite my best efforts to protect it, the flimsy sheet in a plastic sheath providing James' name and dates to the public has faded completely, burned out by the sun and latent moisture. I took it apart and put in a new placard, his name and dates in my almost illegible scrawl. It won't last very long either. Ants made a home around the concrete base of the vase the cemetery provided for flowers. I killed them all, but they'll come back. The grass grows every week. Three weeks ago the runners were just beginning to reach across the bare ground. I thought about stopping them. I didn't want to believe it had been that long, I didn't want people to think of James' grave as an old one, something in the past. The wound less fresh than those of graves with freshly tilled soil. I decided against it ultimately, at least in part because I couldn't think of how I'd explain it to the groundskeepers. Now the grass is criss-crossing it, threatening to erase entirely the bare earth. James needs a permanent memorial, one that can withstand the sun and the rain, one the ants can't bury and the grass can't cover. I just realized I wrote "son" instead of "sun" every time in this paragraph. Go figure.

Part of the reason why is the same reason the grass growing bothered me. I'm worried that without something there, without something permanent, people will forget. That without some carved chunk of stone with his name and age etched into its side people won't remember that James Camden Sikes was there. That they'll forget about him entirely. That after I die, Kara dies, and everyone who knew him dies it will be as though he never was, and never mattered. I want people to know, even if the only people to see it will be people like me, shopping stone samples in the cemetery. I want them to see his name and age and wonder about him, think about him. I want them to wonder.

I remember as a boy going to visit an old family cemetery in Sikes. In a neat little row at the front were James Franklin (my great x4 grandfather), his wife Susan, James Warren Sr. (my great x3 grandfather) and his wife Sarah. Between them is Clarence Lester Sikes, a nine year old boy who died over a century ago. I remember wondering what happened to him, how he found himself there between his father and grandfather. A century from now, I'd like someone to wonder what happened to James Camden and James Matthew. I don't want them to forget him, I don't want the world to forget, no matter how infrequent the thoughts might be over the years. James was too important to forget.

On one hand I know that these thoughts are silly. No one is going to judge James' legacy by the color or the quality of the granite on his headstone. At the same time I find them very comforting. This is yet again something we can control, after so many things that we could not. Still, whatever words, inscriptions, or carvings I think to put on the stone won't be enough. They won't capture James' personality or his delightful smile. They won't carry the sound of his laughter. For memorials like that we must depend on other sources, on the people that knew and loved him. The people whose lives he touched. The stone is just a marker. It will never be a legacy.

11 comments:

  1. I am sorry. Thanks for writing this. It has helped me today.

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  2. The story of James has touched countless lives. Tombstone or not, there is no way that James will EVER be forgotten. There are complete strangers (myself included) that think about James every single day. You are continually in my prayers. Thank you for continuing to write and sharing your journey.

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