Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pikeville Necropolis

I hopped in the car this morning and drove to Pikeville, KY.  My mother is buried in a mountain-side cemetery just off the main road as you come into town.  I arranged to have a stone to mark her grave back in December.  This is the first time I've been able to come, to see for myself and make sure things are as me and my sisters want them to be.

Today the cemetery looks like the morning after a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration - gaudy artificial flowers festoon every other marker, along with flags and mementos.  I don't remember this cemetery being this effusive.  On not a few graves are those solar powered lights that glow in the dark, turning the ranks of graves into an eerie light show at night.  I pick my way across the graves, around the markers and tombstones, and suddenly what anybody else does for their dead doesn't matter because I'm standing at my own mother's final resting place.  The black stone is bigger than I thought it would be.  I read her name and weep.

The trip had been matter of fact.  Five hours of interstate and the last 90 miles a tour-de-force of human achievement blasted through the mountains, the resulting four lane taking an hour and a half instead of the three or four hours it took us when I was a boy getting car sick on winding mountain roads learning early how to pray as my father narrowly avoided careening coal trucks as he passed unbearably slow cars and trucks in front.  It was an obligatory trip, as my parents were going home.  Pikeville is where they grew up, and my father's parents - my grandparents - still lived there.  It's funny how those memories are fading to black and white.  So it was an obvious choice for my mom to be buried there, back where she grew up, where she was a high school cheerleader, who fell in love and married the high school quarterback.  Her own parents are buried there, too, as are my father's mom and dad.

All pretense dissolves in the presence of the dead, especially those who are known and who are loved.  We occupy the stage only briefly.  And then the gig is up.  Our context has done an astonishing job at giving the impression that this moment, this day, this life will always be just like this.  A quick check in the mirror, for those whose eyes actually see, rather quickly disabuses one of this delusion.  But amazingly the delusion persists, and I (we?) so quickly fall into investing our money, our talents, our time into the equivalent of junk bonds and ponzi schemes with offers of impossible returns.  I stand before my mother's earthly remains and my life flashes before my eyes, and I find myself telling her how sorry I am for my mistakes, for not being able to hold my marriage together, for bringing distress and hurt into the lives of loved ones.  My tears take me by surprise, the emotional equivalent of the piles of flowers all around me.  I find myself praying for her, as she is in the presence of God with all the saints.  And I ask her to pray for me.

I walk slowly away.  I suddenly appreciate all the artificial flowers and flags, and even the tacky tombstone lights for the love that they are.  A memory suddenly transports me back to Christmases as a boy.  My mom would decorate our house with exquisite taste,  With one small exception.  We had those new-fangled electric candles in our windows, the ones that illumine a house so beautifully at Christmastime.  Except that my mom had this thing for blue, and so the bulbs in our candles were, yes, blue.  I grew up thinking this was normal.

As I write this, I am sitting in a restaurant across from the Pikeville Walmart.  I am tempted to go in and find where the little solar powered lights are and pick out a blue one. I'm tempted to pay my mom's grave one more visit and leave my little solar-powered blue candle on my mom's tombstone to twinkle through the dark hours of night. I think my sisters would be appalled.  But my mom - she'd love it!