I was fighting off mosquitoes while walking around New Lorimier Cemetery in Cape this week looking for graves of people who died in the 1918 flu epidemic, while also keeping an eye out for military graves.
On my second or third pass down a row, I spotted a familiar name on the back of a stone. It had a strange inscription: “REMAINS REINTERED AND BURIED HERE JULY 24, 192?” (I can’t be sure from the photo what the last digit is.)
The name was familiar because the local American Legion Post 63 has taken his name. (Although, I was surprised not to find any of his history on the post’s website. Maybe I missed it.)
Mr. and Mrs. Juden visited their son’s grave in France in 1920.
Biography in The Fort Sheridan Association History
The Green Fields of France
While editing the photos, a song, The Green Fields of France, came up in my playlist. These words hit me hard when I looked at the portrait of a young man.
Well how do you do, young Willy McBride? Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside And rest for a while ‘neath the warm summer sun I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen When you joined the great fallen in nineteen-sixteen I hope you died well And I hope you died clean Oh young Willy McBride, was is it slow and obscene?
[Chorus] Did they beat the drums slowly? Did they play the fife lowly? Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down? Did the band play the Last Post in chorus? Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
Did you leave here a wife or a sweetheart behind? In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined? Although you died back in nineteen-sixteen In that faithful heart, are you forever nineteen? Or are you a stranger without even a name Enclosed then forever behind a glass pane In an old photograph torn, battered, and stained And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?
I ran across a couple things that stuck me this week during what would have been Mother’s 98th Birthday Season. We’ll get to them in a second.
Back in 2014, Mother and I went trekking for pine cones that we could use as fire starters. She took to it like a kid on Easter morning.
Today, I took Road Warriorette Shari and her mother, Senior Honorary Road Warriorette LaFern, to an undisclosed location for a similar hunt. (“If anybody asks what we’re doing, tell them we’ve been sentenced to community service,” I told them.)
When we were through, I said we’d make a side trip over to New Lorimier Cemetery to wish Mother a Happy Birthday with a pair of our pine cones. I mean, flowers are so ordinary.
Gregory Lincoln’s Thoughts
Gregory A. Lincoln administrator of Facebook’s Cape Rewound, a popular group with 5,311 members (and counting) recently lost his mother. He shared this with the group:
Sitting in my bed enjoying the pretty full moon shine through my bedroom window. 🙂. It’s been a very rough weekend. It’s hard to imagine her gone. All my life she was very tough and fought death and seem to always win except that final battle. I don’t understand. I assume it’s a battle we will all lose sooner or later. I guess she knew in her heart it was her time. Her birthday is approaching so please excuse me if I share a memory, a photograph or heart touching song.
About the same time, I was sorting stuff that had buried my desk, deciding what I wanted to keep, and what would be good fireplace fodder now that the weather is turning chilly.
Memories Sneak Out of My Eyes
In the stack was a letter from Brother Mark. It was a rambling thing, all full of non sequiturs and whimsy. On the last page, in the last paragraph before reaching a photo of Mother in one of her signature red coats, he wrote, “As I find myself at the bottom of the page, I couldn’t decide which to end with, so you get both. Put it in context, if you will.
“My memory loves you; it asks about you all the time.”
“Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.”
When I walked out the front door the other day, I noticed that the tulips that Mother had planted years and years ago had started to bloom. I snipped off a few, along with some other flowers from the yard, and started looking for something I could put them in at the cemetery.
It was pretty windy, so I thought I’d better get a vase of some kind with a spike on the bottom. After going to three places, I found a small, white plastic one, but it had plastic flowers in it. I hate plastic flowers when real ones are available.
I turned to an elderly woman in front of me (if I call someone elderly, you KNOW they are old), and asked if she’d like some flowers. Her face lit up like she had won the lottery. It was the best thing that happened all day.
By the way, you can click on the photos to make them larger.
Brother David hits Cape
Brother David passed through St. Louis and Cape doing a honk ‘n’ wave on his way back home to Texas. He brought along a wreath to put on Dad and Mother’s stone.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a way to secure the wreath, and the winds were blowing so hard that we were afraid it would end up in Perry county. I promised him I’d come back the next week to rig something up.
My flowers were woebegone
The cheap plastic vase I bought wouldn’t hold water, and the wind had whipped the flowers around, so they were looking a bit ragged when I went back on Monday to rig David’s wreath.
If you look closely, you can see the head of two big spikes I pushed into the ground, and some fine green wires leading upwards from them.
It’s up in time for his birthday
Two similar spikes and wires hold on the front of the stone secure the wreath. When I messaged David that I got the display up in time for Dad’s birthday, April 17, he pointed out that he would have been 101 years old this year.
It’s been three weeks since the early-morning phone call from the Lutheran Home telling me that I had become an orphan. In those three weeks, we wrapped up a wedding in Tulsa, held a funeral service, scattered the family in all directions, and started to deal with all the minutia of unraveling someone’s life. Brother Mark and Robin have done a great job of starting to box and discard. He was elected to be the one to handle all the executor stuff. While he was doing that, I skipped town for a week to go to Ohio to set up some projects there.
So, I’m back in a house that is slowly looking less and less like the place I grew up. I find myself talking to myself – usually griping, like when the alarm goes off – to fill the silence.
As I described in the last post, Mother wanted a simple funeral – no church, no sad songs, a balloon release and happy memories. What we ended up with was a unique send-off that contained elements even the funeral director said he hadn’t seen before.
About three dozen attended
The funeral home register contained about three dozen signatures, and nearly 500 readers “liked” my obituary post. She got quite a send-off. I was even pleased to see several of Mother’s favorites from the nursing home staff show up.
Brother David and I spoke briefly; at the last minute, we consented to having a Bible verse read, and David asked to have Over the Rainbow played while the attendees left the service.
The publisher of The Gastonia Gazette threw a big party every year for advertisers and news sources. It included lots of good food and a band. A stereotypical old Southern Belle stopped the band in mid-song saying in honey-dipped tones, “They played that song at muh daddy’s funeral. I can’t stand to hear it.”
At the time, I thought she was overly full of drama and entitlement, but I know, now, that I will never think Wizard of Oz when I hear Over the Rainbow.
Signs of respect
Mother always liked to ride down a road she had never been down before, so I guess her final ride qualified for that. It reminded me a bit of the 2001 Birthday Season when we rented a couple of limos to take her and her friends out to dinner. They were honored that so many people lined Broadway that evening to see them go by (not realizing the crowds were setting up for SEMO’s Homecoming parade.
I love how cars in Cape pull off to the side as a funeral procession goes by. The most touching moment was when we passed a group of three or four construction workers wearing their day-glo shirts. The men straightened up, pulled off their caps and held them over their hearts. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to get a photo. Like I’ve said before, some days you make pictures; some days you make memories. I’ll never forget their gesture toward someone they never knew.
Stay or leave?
Mark and I had a last-minute discussion about what we would do when we got to the cemetery. I told him I’d be happy to leave before the casket was lowered into the ground, but he said he wanted to be there until the very end.
See you later”
David asked if there was anything wrong with scratching something onto the top of the casket. There were no objections, so he carved on it, “See you later,” the phrase Mother always used instead of “Goodbye.” Before long, a bunch of us were leaving last messages. David’s daughters tossed bridal bouquets on the casket, and Son Matt left behind Groucho Marx glasses (more about that later).
David turns the crank
We Steinhoffs are curious folks, so Brother David asked the young grave digger (I don’t know if that’s his official title) lots of questions. He let David push the button that lowered the casket into the vault, but explained that the vault and casket weighted about 2,300 pounds, so a heavier cable set was used to finish the job. David turned the crank that lowered the vault into its final resting place.
Despite my earlier trepidations, focusing on the mechanics and the process helped distract us from the contents of the box we were lowering into the ground. Instead of being a morbid experience, the great-grandkids were fascinated by what was going on. I think it was healthy for all of us.
“That’s your dad next to her”
When the vault was finally in the hole, the young gravedigger said, if you look toward the head end, you can see something that looks like a cave. If you look even more closely, that’s the edge of your dad’s vault showing.
It was comforting to see that after 37 years and a few odd weeks that Mother and Dad were going to be side-by-side again.
The celebration begins
Mother always like to watch to car dealer over on Kingshighway cut loose the balloons tied to its cars, so she wanted a balloon release at the cemetery.
Popping the corks
What would a celebration of life be without Champagne and a toast?
When I got back home
When I got back home, two envelopes were waiting for me by my computer. I had been up until 4 a.m. the night before putting together a slide show for the viewing, which caused Wife Lila and me to leave separately from the rest of the family.
Mark explained what they were later:
I had made up a little packet for everyone in the family and some others and gave them out right before they let us view mother. Since you arrived at a different time, I did not get yours to you. I left them on the desk by your computer. The glasses commemorate her photo at Ky Lake and the tissues are obvious.
Also in the packet was a one-page document: “I wrote the thoughts on my phone while sitting on the couch with her one night at home before she went to Lutheran Home.”
I’m glad I didn’t see it before the service because that small box of tissues wouldn’t have been near enough. He summed up so well what some of those long nights were like.
“Playing like we are happy?”
Weak as a kitten, boney as an old cat… I rub the back of my 93-year-old mother as she drifts off to sleep on her couch at home.
Her pajama top is brushed combed cotton so rubbing her feels just like kitten fur. She wakes herself up and says to me “What are we doing?” And I say “Sitting on the couch together” and then she says , “Playing like we are happy?”….”Yes, like we are happy.”
Outside the window
The sun has sunk down behind the trees and so has she, sunk, bent forward sleeping in her own lap. How is this possible? Her skin is like onion paper and tears so easily yet she is flexible enough to sleep in her own lap. Cars drive by the house outside the window on their way to someplace. While she sleeps going no place yet somewhere in her mind she is far away.
We are both sitting side by side here on the couch and neither one of us not wanting to be here at this place at all.
Damn you, time
Damn you memories. Damn you time.
Damn you Vulcan Spock for not having emotions.
Why only you?
This time is different
This time is different.
In the past, had the top scoop fallen off my ice cream cone, I could have gone in and gotten another one. This time, this time I can only look at the scoop on the ground and watch it melt away.
Seems like a lifetime ago when I was in the basement of this house stringing tinsel on a Christmas tree. Only slightly worrying about what I would get as presents. Who is that kid and how many trees have come and gone since then? Seems odd that I have all the original tree ornaments and they look the very same as back then and everything else has gotten older and somewhat tarnished.
Did I sleep too much?
Did I sleep too much, did I waste the days, the moments and the minutes? I want to roll some of them, actually a lot of them back, please. I want to savor them now more than I did when it was a fleeting moment.
So what happens? Like at the moment you turn off an old tube TV set and the picture suddenly disappears and shrinks to a white dot before the screen goes completely dark, is that what happens?
It’s going to be hard to “play like we are happy” very hard indeed.
I feel cheated
I think I want my money back. I want to review the warranty closer and really read the fine print. ‘Cause I think I missed something, feeling cheated is how I can best explain it. I guess I should have gotten the extended warranty.
I’m not so noble that I want to trade places. I just want to beat, if not cheat, the system a tiny bit. Not stepping on the, “…And on the third day he rose…” story, more of a “Lazarus take up your bed and walk” turnabout fair play thingy. Can you blame a guy?
Graveside photo gallery
Well, I got to use Mark’s box of tissues. I edited the photos right after the service, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it. I’ve gone on to shoot some other stories, but I didn’t feel like I could post them until I got this one out of the way. Maybe we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I won’t promise that I’ll keep up my old daily schedule, but I’ve missed you all.
Thank you for all the cards you sent to Mother at the Lutheran Home, and thank you for the support and love you have sent to the Steinhoff family.
Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to navigate through the gallery.