The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. It can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. This week, we’re taking a sharp right into St. Augustine’s, then down the hill to where the willow grows.
I know where I’m going after I drop my girl to her volunteer job, so I pop Lady Gaga out of the player and flick in Alison Krauss and Union Station, Lonely Runs Both Ways.
I’m trying to listen to song lyrics, maybe memorize a few to bring back from my Artist Date, but my girl is chattering about how Kelly answered her question on selling prints. “How much do you think mine are worth?” she’s asking. I turn Alison down so I can discuss the value of a budding photographer’s work.
At the Montessori, I drop my girl, as always, and watch her long orange wool coat as she meanders up the stone steps to the double green doors. She knocks. They open. A curved hand, Cristina’s, waves to me, and the doors close. I’m off.
“Gone tomorrow, here today, just in case you’ve got somethin’ to say, ” Alison is singing twang-sweetness between fiddles.
I cross the highway, yield slightly at the sign, point my car south on 134, then take a sharp right into St. Augustine’s. “Who owns death?” I think. Then I pass a white sign with brown letters “friends and family only, ” drive past Jesus still dead in Mary’s lap, and swerve ’round a host of angels rising in white sculpture to the blue spring sky.
It occurs to me that the bottom (the back?) of the cemetery might have the oldest stones. I want that. So I drive down and down, past a rusty plow sitting by itself on the wide-open hills to the left. Over a narrow bridge I make my way to where the willow grows. I park my blue Volvo. I don’t have time for death today. Someone is coming to clean the furnace in forty minutes. So I’ll need something to keep time. I pick my cell phone out of my bag, press the button until I feel the buzz under my index finger, and notice a little icon I’ve never noticed before. It comes to light on the screen, “LG. Life’s good.”
Now I’m out of the car. Banana oatmeal muffin in one hand, black Canon Powershot dangling from my right wrist. A big “Rest in Peace” inscription catches my eye, as a Boar’s Head meat truck goes barreling by on the highway to the west. I start to explore the stones. James Lyons 1863-1897 husband of Brigid Clark. Bridget wife of Patrick Maguire a native of the Parish of Killskerry Tyrone Ireland. Punctuation is only partly necessary where the dead are concerned. I think I read somewhere that every chisel bears a cost. Maybe that’s why Bridget has no birth date, though she died in 1869.
Mary Hogerty started death alone. Her name is all but worn from the top of her stone. Died 1825. But then she got company in 1896 and 1945 respectively. Daughter of daughter of mother Mary.
The Furaro Family seems ready for anything. No stone slab to keep death firmly on the other side. Rather, a single tall tombstone watches over a cavernous space that is broached by wooden beams. Easy to lift when necessary. Come on in, I can almost hear them saying.
As in all cemeteries, there is the early death. I find William, son of Thomas and Catharine Welch. Died December 19, 1866, aged 10 mos and 22 days. Twenty-two days. Someone was counting. The days of a child, one year after the end of the American Civil War. William would miss sharing time with Laura Ingalls Wilder (born 1867).
I decide to walk all the way to the very last corner of the plots. A simple stone is set there. “Mother.” I am tempted to make something of it, because it’s the perfect detail a writer could whoop up into some kind of dramatic point. But in the end, I won’t. I’m the girl who lost the May Queen festival to Lisa Collyer when I said I wanted to play a golden flute like James Galway. Lisa had quietly smiled to the crowd and said, “I just want to be a mother, because the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Why I was part of the May Queen festival is another question altogether. In any case, now I take a picture of Mother and move on.
It is time for me to get back home for the furnace cleaning. I walk the path more quickly. Emma Murray William Elizabeth Frank Dennis Mary Thomas Mary Patrick Bridget Michael Jane Daniel Margaret Peter Patrick Margret Jeremiah Mary Patrick Ellen Mary Mathias Mattie Elida. Elida was born April 22, 1860, under which it simply says, “Died.”
I get into the Volvo, back my way out, and notice a white-haired man putting on boots and knee pads. I drive past, slow the car and peer at him through the rear-view mirror. Now he’s clearing away the space in front of a brick-colored tombstone. I see a small orange-mouthed shovel and chisels of every size. I want to ask what he is doing, but I drive up the big hill and leave him in peace. At the last stretch of the drive, I consider that my friend Andrea’s house is just over those trees. I turn my wheel to the right and look both ways. If I wave to her from beyond, I wonder, will she see?
Post by L.L. Barkat, author of Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing
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