Lot 31, Block 24

>> Sunday, June 19, 2011

The sign on the door of the little cottage said Caretaker. The grounds belonged to Angwin Mortuary. My father was buried in Lot 31, Block 24. My husband, John, and I were here to ask for directions. We stepped through the doorway. The man behind the desk was heavy set, with absolutely no chin. His big folds of skin went from cheek to shoulder. No neck. “May I help you?” he asked.

“I’m looking for my father’s grave. My instructions say Lot 31, Block 24. The stone says Vail on one side and Oldham on the other.”

“Oh, that’s easy”, he said as he shuffled some papers in his hand. Using no computer, no ledger, just the map of his city that he had in his head, he pointed out the window and said, “Go past that first intersection and park by the very next tree. The first name is Cain and then the next one is what you are looking for."

We followed his instructions. As I climbed from the car, I noticed a metal plaque on the ground that said “24”. My heart came up to my throat. There in front of me was a tall stone that said “VAIL”. My eyes hurriedly scanned the flat stones on the ground until they found what they were seeking.

“G. VIRGIL VAIL – Born July 25, 1891 – Died December 6, 1942” … one day after my birth. Seeing that date was what did it. My body fought hard to breathe. 60 years later I stood at my father’s grave.

Thoughts collided in my head. How would my life have been different had he lived? Why hadn’t mother ever talked to me about him?

My father had never seen me … and I had never touched anything that belonged to him. I had seen few pictures and wouldn’t recognize him if I met him on the street. There had never been a connection. I hadn’t celebrated my birthday, just the anniversary of his death.

He had left me to fend for myself against mother. Would it have been better … or worse … had he lived?

I had never heard his voice … never called anyone “daddy” … and it had never really bothered me. I couldn’t miss what I never had.

But now I did.

I stood and looked at the stone in the ground. I knelt down and touched the slab … and the dam broke. With John’s arms around me, I grieved for what had never been. A giant piece of my life seemed missing.

“I hadn’t realized visiting his grave would affect me this way,” my muffled voice said into John’s shirt as he held me in his arms.

He just patted me and said, “I knew it would.” Then he said, “Why don’t you leave something of yours here. Something precious to you. Dig down and put it under the stone.”

Once again my mind whirled. What could I leave here?
Another piece of my mind was saying, “You don’t even believe in going to graves. You and John are going to be cremated. The spirits aren’t in the body after death. Where is all this coming from?”

I didn’t know and it didn’t matter. What could I leave?

Then I knew. I went to the car and took out my business card holder. I removed one card. As I handed it to John I said, “This is what I want to leave. It tells him who I am … how I turned out.

“You need to do this by yourself. Go tell him about your journeys that brought you to this place.”

I knelt at the cold slab. Time passed. I shared of the blessings of my life … my children … my wonderful husband. The discoveries I had made within me … my strength and creativeness. The trips I had taken … and the friendships I had developed. As tears made rivulets down my cheeks, I had a talk with my dad.

Digging down at the edge of the stone, I stuck my business card down in the slot I made. It would disintegrate and be there forever with my dad. I felt connected at last. With my head held high, I turned and reached for John’s hand. Together we walked away from Lot 31, Block 24.

“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12 (NLT)


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