Sunday, May 29, 2011

Flowers among the stones

This would be the summer, once they've stopped blooming, to thin the old-fashioned iris around my great-grandparents' tombstone again and bring a start into town, transferring a remnant of Great-grandmother's garden to my own.

There's nothing fancy about these old iris, just one of perhaps a half-dozen varieties that flourished in old-fashioned flower gardens before the hybrids came along. But they're sturdy (these were planted in the 1930s), and aggressive, spreading again and again from the back and sides of the granite marker to obscure the front. That's when I push back a little.

Cemeteries used to be gardens, too, and out in the country still are --- although subject to the whims of maintenence personnel with weed-whackers and, occasionally, Roundup. I don't mind nature's disorder, but some prefer an antiseptic sea of granite, marble and grass.

In larger cemeteries now, free-form plantings are generally forbidden and draconian measures taken to control shaggy edges. Shagginess --- and the flowers --- remain at Salem, however.

With rain in the forecast, I drove out with my planters late Saturday --- and was stymied at the first river crossing south of town. After creeping down the long hill, to avoid coming to a full stop while waiting for a train to pass, I discovered once it had gone that water was out over the road. Naah --- not going to try it although I probably could have made it, and turned around.

Turned onto the ridge and meandered down to the Wolf Crick Road, which was high and dry, then sneaked up on the cemetery from the south. When I crossed the Chariton River bridge on the New York Road, two young guys were relaxing on lawn chairs smack in the middle, boots on the rail, fishing over the side. Wish I'd stopped and taken a picture of that, too.

Salem's looking good this year, neatly mown (quite a trick when you consider how much rain we've had) and nicely (but not aggressively) trimmed.

I spotted two other varieties of iris in bloom, but the ubiquitous pale yellow onces were past their prime. This multi-colored variety still was flourishing.

The peonies were just beginning to come into full bloom --- and peonies always have been this cemetery's Memorial Day glory. My mother called them "PINEees" --- perhaps a mountain Virginianism brough west by her maternal grandmother, Chloe, and I still do.

Because of the odd weather we've had this spring, the dark pinks and reds still are just in bud, but the lighter pinks and white, beginning to open.

We have so many peonies here in the south of Iowa that they're taken for granted. If they weren't so sturdy --- many of the Salem peonies have been blooming here for more than a century --- we'd be paying florists a fortune to provide them.

The white peony that now completely obscures the little white tombstone of my young cousin, Lilly Belle Parsons, who died during the 1880s, is now at least five feet in diameter and just beginning to bloom. That's Great-great-grandfather Jacob Myers towering in the background.

Since Lilly's folks decided to be buried in the Chariton Cemetery, she's alone in this family lot, but her little cousin, Cora Houck, is just to her left --- and her grandparents nearby.

If there ever were animosities in this little Benton Township neighborhood, they have long since faded and everyone sleeps here companionably now. Confederate veteran Elijah Morgan's CSA marker needs to be reset, but he's here beneath the Stars and Bars.

And just a few feet away is Marshall Gookin, sent home to die during that war we're making the sesquicentennial of this year, beneath the Stars and Stripes.

Time has healed the old sorrows buried here under prairie sod, but some newer ones still are fresh and sharp and unabated. This is the first Memorial Day for a new memorial to a distant cousin, Jessica, cruely and senselessly slain. On the back, there's a handwritten note from her little boy, transferred to stone and cut into granite, that will break your heart.

The flowers here are of silk and synthetic, but no less heartfelt than the older varieties blooming nearby. Perhaps one day, someone will bring another peony from home and plant it here to bloom a hundred more springs.

Some folks are a little spooked by cemeteries, but I've never been. Even have been known to come out here of an evening, sit companionably with my folks for few minutes again and watch the sunset.

Maybe the folks at Salem appreciate our visits; who knows. The first buried here reportedly was a Mormon pioneer who died along the nearby trail in the 1840s; the two most recent, far too young.

I'm reasonably certain that, could they speak (and it would be from experience), they'd all admonish us to rise up, go home, stop fussing about inconsequentials, remember that there's really only enough time for love, and celebrate the gift of life that's still ours.

So that's what I did --- and I'm glad I drove out when I did. Rain is banging against the east window again, so it's probably going to be a good day to stay inside.

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