054: Grandfather’s Favorite Spot

My parents did a strange thing. When my grandfather died, they buried him in a favorite spot in the woods, which is against the current law. The law calls for all dead people to be disposed of by licensed professionals and in plots designated by the state. But my parents decided to bury Grandfather is a favorite spot in the woods.

This is what he wanted, my mother said.

But a few days after my father and mother buried him in a field in those woods, they brought him up and dug another grave near a stand of trees and a pond at the edge of the field.

I think he’d like it better here, my father said. Look, he’ll have a better view. Over there there’s ducks. My mother looked at the ducks and said likely he would enjoy the ducks.

A few days later they dug another spot in a more open area and reinterred him in a hole there. They hooked the casket to the dogs and the dogs pulled him to this new spot. One of the dogs kept stopping to sniff at Grandfather’s casket.

I think maybe he’d feel better watching the clouds pass over the trees, my father said, tapping his chin with a finger. When he told us about his favorite spot, he wasn’t all that specific, my father said. He didn’t mark the exact spot with an X, you know. He really just pointed in this whole general area, saying bury me around here.

A few days later, after sleeping on it, my mother walked us to a place in Grandfather’s general favorite spot near a bench north of which you see an old barn. We dug a new hole. There were two people seated on the bench. They watched us. Both of them were old men, one of Indian origins, the other only spoke Spanish. My mother told them we were making this hole for Grandfather. Both of the men took the shovels out of our hands and assisted with the digging of the new hole and when the dogs finally panted over with the casket and the casket was heaved into the new hole, the two old men said prayers and then left.

A few days later, my father remembered the ducks and the water and said, Father always loved the water. Look how the sunlight works in and out and over the ripples. Look at the stones on the bottom. When I was a kid we used to come here and skip stones and then we’d sit and he’d tell me science fiction stories.

My mother said, Remember the story he always told about Martians, how the Martians used up all their water and then murdered each other?

That was one of my favorites, my father said. He said it was like Animal Farm or worse.

We got the shovels, the dogs, did a little search for the old men but the old men were unavailable, and dug a new grave at the edge of the stream that ran through Grandfather’s favorite spot. I asked whether or not the stream would be poisoned by Grandfather’s body as it degraded. My father said, Shit dies here all the time. You think this is the first death to come near the water? Which made perfect sense to me.

We had a cook out. We had hot dogs, burgers, and salad. We ate and watched the water and the naked piece of ground covering Grandfather. The dogs lay nearby, panting in the shade. Dragonflies jabbed through clouds of hovering bugs. The smoke from the coals drifted over the water and formed coils. Then it dispersed.

I don’t know, my father said. Something doesn’t feel right.

I’d sensed that he would say something like this. I foresaw it, as my father usually puts lots of ketchup on his burger but this time had forgotten it. He’d slapped a piece of bread over his burger and took tasteless, absent-minded bites.

Yes, my mother said. Maybe a tad bit too empty.

They thought about it. A few days later, they decided on a new place near a denser stand of trees, something that looked more like a place where dead people would be buried, something more grand, ceremonial, gothic, you might say, and provided a better view of the stream, the pond where the ducks swam, and the groves that had a medieval, magical light to them because the sun clustered in the grass and the tree trucks were dark and quiet and primal. And so we dug a new place near those trees with the better view and used the stones we found as a means of marking the grave but not in such a way that would draw notice from park rangers or make it easy for wildlife to get at the casket.

The casket scraped one final time over the edge of the new hole. The clammy, grainy wood of the casket passed across my palms. The dogs watched with their flappy pink tongues and my mother and father spoke more final words for Grandfather.

I think he’d be happy with this spot, my father said, least he better be.

My mother nodded and smiled. She had two lines of soil across the right cheek and one her eyes watered.

On the trail to the car, we met a park ranger in his hat and big muddy shoes and he asked my father what the shovels were all about, which was an awkward question.

My father’s answer was immediate and sounded as sincere as I might have sounded if asked whether I wanted hamster hair or sausage on a pizza. He said, I confiscated them from two men in rain coats. Hole diggers, they were, he said. They were looking to bury paint cans and near the pond no less.

You could’ve been hurt, the man said.

Believe me, they were more scared than us, my mother said. Plus, we don’t fear much with these dogs.

Where? the ranger wanted to know, looking suspicious and outraged.

Run off, my father said. Run off that way. Here, take these. We were rushing off to the station now.

My mother wasn’t a woman for lying but said that in this case, and for Grandfather’s sake, the lie was a matter of ethics.

I think of Grandfather as a storyteller and as a man with a favorite place. My father and mother will often say, Remember that story he used to tell or Remember how he used to fish so much or Remember the way he used to always take us to see the ducks and the trees or Remember how we got tired of it all and he had to go all by himself.

I think of my mother and father, too. I see them digging; I see them with their shovels or standing nearby watching me with mine; I see how in all their changes of mind, how they might have been thinking about Grandfather coming here all by himself because my mother and father had grown tired of it. I smell wet earth and clay, and I feel the texture of wet casket wood. I see the dogs drawing the box over the dirt and over the grass. But mainly I think of the grass and the water and the trees, their greens, their quality of light. I think of how they became favorite things for me. I did never return there, though.

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