OT: It’ll take you half an hour to get there


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So you get up, and get in your car, and you drive.

Past the sledding hill where you steered your sled, full force, into a telephone pole, when you were six

Across from the church where you were confirmed

To the intersection where the farmers put their tomatoes and sweet corn in a cart, in August when it’s ripe, on an honor system for payment.

You turn left up the hill toward the intersection where the supper club used to be where your family ate fish fry every Friday night for years

Where you turn right.

A mile or so down the road is the woods where you camped with your troop when you were a Girl Scout and then with your girls when you were a scout leader.

You pass through the three unincorporated towns between home and your destination. Past the old Methodist church that’s now a wedding chapel.

Past the rise where your dad lost control of his trailer full of wood with the whole family on board and landed his crew cab in the ditch, the worst car accident you’ve ever been in, and you wonder, as you have every single time you’ve driven past since 1982, if alcohol caused an uncertainly fastened trailer. Past the woods with the very straight trees where a very small you thought Hansel and Gretel might have lived.

In the third town, you wait behind the morning train, as you always seem to do, drumming your thumbs on the steering wheel. Being even a minute late is bad form in this part of the world. When you pass the limits of the third town, you open your eyes and clench your jaw and take a deep breath.

On your right, the farm where your mother grew up, a long row of pines along the driveway.

Still on the right, the shuttered cheese factory where your grandfather delivered his milk every morning till he quit farming.

On the left, the one-room school house where your mother went to school, now the town hall.

Over the “new” bridge, where you remember, as you have every time since 1982, the flood and the old bridge, which could be elevated to let boats through.

You turn right at the diner and drive to the parking lot of the hotel where your great-grandmother cooked.

Your dad is waiting, waving. You get out. He tells you he thought you got lost. You tell him it’s hard to get lost on this trip. You turn around and you see in a clear view to the steeple of the church where your mother was baptized and confirmed and your parents were married. Looking the other way, across the river, the house where your mother’s uncle lived after WWII.

You cross the street and the door of the furniture store jingles. You shake the hand of the man who’s arranged the burials of every family member you’ve attended in your entire life. He was the EMT who came to your grandmother’s bedside when you called him to certify that she’d stopped breathing. He’s older now. He knows your name.

Your brother’s already sitting in his office. You sit down around the table and the man suggests you draft death certificates for both parents — so you’re “ready to go” in both cases. Your father does not know that your mother was born at her grandmother’s house, nor is he clear on how to spell your mother’s middle name, nor does he recall his own birthplace. You promise to ask your mother and send an email. The man knows the rest, the addresses and occupations, everything except the Social Security numbers, and he fills them in, piece by piece, talking you through it. He tells you that you’ll need a copy of your father’s army discharge in order to file his death certificate, when it comes to that. Your dad says he doesn’t want any military stuff at his funeral. You tell the man you’ve lost track of your mother’s goddaughter and would like to be in touch; he tells you there’s someone he can ask.

The conversation winds its way slowly through cremation, gravestones, what your mother will wear for the visitation before her funeral, honoraria for the pastor and organist, and the locally contentious matter of who will supply the luncheon afterwards. Your mother wants a hot lunch and your father objects. You tell your father that mom should have what she wants, but that you vow not to have a luncheon after his funeral. Everyone laughs.

The man muses that your parents’ church no longer follows the old precedence of mourners for the service itself. After your father, you, and your brother’s family, the congregation will follow the coffin willy nilly. He shakes his head. But he asks for pallbearers and then winces. Your mother doesn’t have many surviving male relatives. You venture your belief that women could also be pallbearers. Your brother laughs and your father and the man shake their heads vehemently. Better no pallbearers. The man notes that your parents’ church has no steps so mom can get along without them.

The man gives you a template and pledges you to write the obituaries for both your parents and send them to him. He tells you the price per column inch. His daughter, whom you don’t know, comes in and promises to email you pictures of grave markers to show your mother from your laptop.

It takes about seventy-five minutes to wrap it all up. You all walk out into the sunshine. Your brother mentions that he wants to go home and make hay. Your dad says you should come out to have dinner on the farm with the girls.

You feel you can’t bear to come any farther. You mention that you have to run some errands and then you’ll go see mom early since you have her laundered clothes.

You glance wistfully at the diner, where you always got a soft-serve cone, half vanilla, half chocolate, when your grandfather was alive. Thirty years ago. You get in your car.

On the way back to town, you get a lungful of dust from summer road repairs and think how much your brother would have enjoyed watching the machines break up the road. When he was six. It’s his thirty-ninth birthday, today.

Back in town, you turn on the wrong street, on a grid of streets you’ve driven off and on since you were sixteen.

You decide to stop and buy flowers: a dozen white roses because they smell good, a dozen red carnations because they are your mother’s favorite flower, and six sunflowers because they are your family’s agreed-upon “cheery” flower.

The florist says, with concern, binding them into a bouquet, “These flowers don’t go together.”

You make a non-committal noise in your throat and smile apologetically. “Can I have some baby’s breath, too?” you ask.

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~ by Servetus on August 18, 2013.

2 Responses to “OT: It’ll take you half an hour to get there”

  1. […] — when she drafted it on a day when she was really depressed — and (at his request and the urging of the funeral guy) we wrote my dad’s on Friday. We’re done and I read them to her one last […]


  2. […] and so the drive out to the town where my parents grew up was one solid pleasure to the eyes. I’ve described this drive before. Even if I don’t farm, I don’t like to see crops suffering, but the corn is glorious, […]


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