Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween melancholy

Yesterday was road trip day. Mom had a meeting in Steubenville, so I rode along and navigated. The directions came from Dad's brand-new map program, and were a bit confusing at the end, so she wound up being about fifteen minutes late. I dropped her off and visited the Fort Steuben mall, was fairly underwhelmed and returned to the parking lot to sit in the car and read magazines. When the meeting ended, we went to the post office, then lunch, then Mom dropped a bunch of paperwork off at the county court office.

I fell off the wagon cigarette-wise last weekend, and Mom caught me smoking, so that made for a bit of a quiet drive for a while (btw, I am now back on the wagon!) as we headed out of Steubenville for Pittsburgh. The directions for this leg of the trip were flawless, and at this point, it was still sunny and reasonably warm. The sky started to cloud up as we reached the Penn Hills section of Pittsburgh, and by the time we got to Great-Aunt Cathy's house, it was raining. We were in the house only long enough to look at some pictures and for Mom to show some to Aunt Cathy, then the three of us headed out to find the Allegheny County Memorial Park. Mom's cousin Mary Lou had provided excellent directions, and we didn't have any problem until the last intersection, which was a five-way and not well-marked. Mom asked at one of the gas stations, and we found the cemetery.

Having gotten there, Mom had to do a fair bit of driving around until we found the correct portion of the cemetery, and then the real looking started. As with most cemeteries these days, this one now allows only flush-to-the-ground markers, and Mom and I had to clear leaves off about fifty of them before I located our family (to Mr. Betts--I am very sorry I tripped over your headstone and fell on your grave. I slipped in the wet leaves and caught my foot on the edge. Please forgive me). I cleared the leaves off the family stones, and Mom escorted Aunt Cathy from the car to the plots. The most recent marker is my great-uncle Ed's, from last July. Aunt Cathy talked about how she met him after his discharge from the Army during WWII. My grandmother's parents, Hattie and William, are buried there, as are my mom's twin sisters. Joyce and Nancy were born in 1937, and Nancy was stillborn. Joyce died 8 months later of SIDS, and while I never spoke with my grandmother about this, it has to have shaped the rest of her life.

About half of my grandmother and grandfather's ashes are interred with the family. Grandpa wanted his ashes scattered over the Pacific outside of Santa Barbara, where he and my grandmother had so many lovely vacations. Gramma wanted both of them to be buried with the twins and the rest of the family. She wouldn't explicitly go against Grandpa's wishes, but she couldn't bring herself to carry them out, so Grandpa's ashes stayed in the hall closet for the eight or so years between his death and hers. When she died, Mom and her brothers did the sensible thing and divided up the ashes, burying half and scattering the other half. Aunt Cathy made a reference to the family legend of Grandpa's father, whose ashes were put on a train in Pittsburgh to be buried at the family farm in Ohio. When the grieving family got to the train station--no ashes. Great-grandpa may still be riding the rails to this day, and as he worked for the railroad all his adult life, it's fitting.

On the one hand, my trip to the cemetery made me oddly happy. I was glad to have some time with Aunt Cathy, who is amazingly sweet and pretty damn sharp for 84, and glad to have grown up in a close and loving family. On the other hand, a selfish part of me looked at all those joint headstones--"Harriet & William," "John & Mary," "Edward & Catherine," and just felt like such a failure for being the only one in the family to be unmarried. *sigh*

As I'm sitting here writing this, it just occurred to me that the opening scene of the first "Night of the Living Dead" opened with a visit to a Pennsylvania graveyard on a grey and gloomy day. I'm terribly pleased I didn't think of that yesterday while we were there!

We got lost several times on the way from the cemetery to the restaurant Aunt Cathy recommended for dinner, owing to the rain, the early darkness, some vagueness from Aunt Cathy (who drives very little these days) and some inattention from the driver as she and her aunt discussed their addiction to ice cream. Dinner was lovely, even if I did eat myself sick and the restaurant was full of Steeler's memorabilia. After we dropped Aunt Cathy off at home, we got lost again trying to find the PA turnpike, and when we did, it was pouring rain, the road was full of big trucks, and it was pretty scary. When we crossed the Ohio border, we both took a deep breath, which turned out to be a mistake, as someone must have hit or scared a skunk recently. Eww. Nonetheless, the trip was much easier from that point on--the rain even stopped!

We were at Mom & Dad's by 9:40, and I was home and drying my feet by 10. All in all, it was a good, if sad, Halloween day.

1 comment:

mike from Eerie said...

see what you think of as melancholy - i think of as honoring the deceased (which is something no one does near enough of, in my opinion) as well as paying respect to your elders....

Aunt Cathy sounds like a hellova lady - i bet i would have liked meeting her...

(pittsburgh is a strange strange place to drive around in - i once got lost in a mcdonalds parking lot there - i also had my honeymoon in pittsburgh, which i still think is the biggest reason i got divorced)

i think i have decided, when its my time (which isnt for a while yet) that i would rather be creamated and have my ashes scattered at home plate somewhere then to go thru the whole process that ones body goes thru when life is gone - this will of course disappoint an old girlfriend who is a practiioner of the mortunary sciences and who gave me a coupon for a free embalming (the break up was a good one so its not like she was trying to tell me something)