I spent the second half of last week visiting Nashville over Fall Break. It was a good trip — I stayed at my aunt’s house and got to spend some time with very dear friends. All those folks are well, and that gladdens me. I got to hear an advance mix of the new album from Salem Hill, and played “Spot the Musical Allusion” with two thirds of the band (the dear friends mentioned earlier.) It’s a very solid album, and I think it will be well received.
I also spent each morning of my visit at the cemetery where my parents are buried. I took a collapsible chair and sat for a few hours by their marker. Mom and Dad have been dead for five years, now, and I’ve been coming to town a couple of times each year since then. I used to feel really awkward when I was there — it’s not like there’s some sort of protocol for gravesite visits, so I’ve had to feel my way through the process over the years, and I’ve never been terribly good at just being somewhere. But now, I find I’m quite comfortable sitting there for two or three hours.
I don’t usually talk much — it’s hard for me to accept the conceit that I can speak to them better at the cemetery than I can anywhere else. Instead, I look around, or read, or occasionally wander around a bit. In short, it’s the kind of stuff I used to do when I would go home to visit them when they were alive, but quieter. And now, it’s comfortable, and that’s a relief too. But even if I’m not doing much of anything there, it’s good to be there, and it’s always hard to drive away, whether just for a day or until my next visit to town.
On Thursday, as I was sitting there, I saw preparations were underway for a funeral about 50 feet from our plot. The vault was in place on the lowering device. (Aside: As I was typing that last sentence, I wondered what the term was for the contraption that is used to lower vaults, caskets, and such into the grave. Turns out it’s called a “lowering device.” Accurate, I guess, but so prosaic. Now catafalque, that’s a fine word.) I asked an attendant when the service was scheduled, and when I learned it would be later that afternoon, when I was elsewhere, I settled back in.
A few minutes after that attendant headed off, another fellow pulled up with a flatbed truck, to set up the awning, chairs, and other trappings for the exequies. The awning works rather like a pop-up tent, and he got most of the pieces set up without much trouble. However, the attendant wasn’t very tall, maybe 5′ 5″ or so, and I noticed he was having trouble putting some of the awning’s framework into place. “Need a hand?” I asked. He did, so I wandered over and connected frame pieces and held poles as he tightened ropes until things were done.
“It’s my first day,” he said. “Not my first day doing this kind of thing, but my first here.” It was okay with me — I wasn’t evaluating him or anything. I didn’t even ask for a uniform ball cap.
I spent a fair amount of Friday afternoon talking with my aunt about bad and sentimental poetry. I did some readings of McGonagall, Julia A. Moore, and of course, Red Sovine‘s masterpiece, “Billy’s Christmas Wish.” One thing led to another, and I discovered that Mr. Sovine is one of several country stars interred at the same cemetery as my folks. Being the kind of person I am, this of course meant that when I visited the cemetery before leaving town on Saturday morning, a pilgrimage was in order.
Although it’s in a far corner of the cemetery, it’s really very similar to Mom and Dad’s marker, and as I’ve mentioned before, that was one of the things my family liked about Woodlawn — that there was a certain democracy of headstones there.
But as I’ve also mentioned, exceptions have been made in recent years, and I saw George Jones’s grave about 50 yards from Sovine’s. You can’t miss it, really — the marker is about 7 feet tall and the plot has a wrought-iron fence around it, and a sign that designates it as “The Garden of the Grand Tour.” Another sign quotes from the song, telling visitors to “Step right up and come on in.” But I didn’t and came home instead.
And how was your weekend?