Thursday, May 29, 2008
(my grandma, Dorothy, third from the left, surrounded by her sisters in 1951; she was 36 in this photo, 5 years younger than I am now. Sweet Carol Channing, but I'm actually holding up pretty well. This is also the photo that one of my favorite large galpals once spotted hanging on the wall, a photo that caused her to holler out, "All I see is a line of breasts and hips; you didn't stand a chance did you, hon?")
"Above the Horizon: Part Two"
We both interred and memorialized Grandma Dorothy on January 13th of 1999.
By day's end, any self-possession I'd started out with had been adroitly flayed by the Ginsu knife that was my dad's grief. His face had such a beautiful composition of lies and planes and dignity and character, and at the gravesite that day, during the interring of his mother's ashes, all those lines crumpled upon themselves into the most terrible mask of agony.
He affected me so much that I couldn't bear to look at him, for fear I'd have to drop to the frozen ground and pound my fists with the pain of seeing my uncomplaining, silent father attempting to keep his composure. Instead, I gloried at the backdrop of the Beartooth Mountains--a view that would prove sustaining when I stood in the same spot four years later, in February of 2003, interring my dad's ashes next to those of his father, mother, and brother--and then distractedly browsed the surrounding tombstones, musing at how many Finns were buried on this Western plains hill. The sole thing that commanded my attention entirely was the unrelenting torrent of wind, a wind that caused the lanky pastor to yell out his words, lest they be blown away before reaching our ears.
His vestments flapping in the wind like Grandma's laundry had, the pastor stood, raised, on the cement outline of the family plot and asked if anyone wanted to add some words of rememberance. For a few minutes, it was silent.
Then, of the eighteen immediates huddled in a bunch against the blasting gusts, those least disposed to words spoke up. First, my grandma's niece (my dad's cousin), Sandy, contributed, "Dorothy was a kind lady." From there, Dorothy's sister, my great-aunt Ethel, observed, "She was a hard worker." It was Ethel who, alongside Dorothy, had milked the ranch's 80 dairy cows, morning and night, throughout their childhood. In such a case, being yoked to a "hard worker" was good fortune, indeed.
Furthering the tribute, my grandma's youngest sister, Ruthie, agreed: "She worked hard. And she was unselfish. She cared."
After that, no one else spoke. At the time, I fretted about the lack of commemorative words, thinking that at my gravesite--at anyone's gravesite--there should be inspired, seemingly-spontaneous, even lengthy words of regret and ongoing devotion; for myself, I fancy a mass outpouring of bereavement, a stampede of verbal processing, so heartfelt that the sky will hear and know that I had been below it for even a short while.
However, my hard-working, unselfish grandma would not have countenanced or even understood such a luxury of words and public emotion. A few carefully-measured sentences, stoically acknowledged, were more than full tribute for this deceased.
After the graveside interment, we had about an hour before the memorial service proper.