December 14, 2009

Today was the day we visit the cemeteries and put wreaths on the graves of family members before the snow hits us hard. It was in the forties here today, but at the cemeteries it seems about forty degrees less. It is because there are very few windbreaks and it goes right through any jacket you may have thought would do the trick.


This cemetery is the oldest, largest, and, in a way, the nicest of several that we have in my town. Nicest cemetery sounds like an oxymoron, and maybe it is, but it has the least rules governing what you can or can't do, which results in a hodgepodge of sizes and shapes of the monuments. The roads meander over, around and through, with impossible U-turns thrown in here and there. It is a resting-place that doesn't take itself too seriously, except in the respect it shows it's permanent residences. The grass is mowed with regularity and kept trimmed. We have in our population of permanent residents, people of all races, religions and nationalities, distinctions they carried with them when they resided on the earth. And they still have separate burial sites for the different religions, a matter of importance to the living, it seems, but to the residents it doesn't really matter anymore. God, or by whatever name we on earth refer to him, accepts all of us equally in a brotherhood of love.

After visiting the graves of my wife Mary's parents, I decided to take a stroll as she tidied up around the marker. The day was sunny, yet brisk, in the fall of the year, and leaves were swirling around the markers. As I strolled, my eye caught an interruption in the symmetry where an area seemed to have no stones. I walked that way only to discover flat stone markers on the ground. No large monuments were here. A stone angel with one broken wing stood nearby, overlooking the area. I was drawn to one of the small markers. The name on the marker was Theodore Michael Hutchinson, with the date of February 15, 1944. As I looked around me, I saw I was in one of the areas set aside as a children's area. The residents here were either stillborn, or died soon after being born. The plainness of the markers, and the reality of a life unlived, touched me to the core.

I never forgot Theodore Michael Hutchinson's little stone, and the next time circumstances found me again in the cemetery, I was drawn to him. The time of year was autumn again, with winter not far away. Snow was definitely in the air. As I stood looking down at his simple, small marker with his long name and single date, I was compelled to speak to him.
What did I expect, for crying out loud? Did I expect him to answer? But for some reason, it didn't seem strange that I should be talking out loud to a stone on the ground.
"Do you mind if I call you Teddy? Theodore is quite a mouth full and a little too big for you, don't you think?"
"I want to talk to you Teddy, but you were only here for one day, and I don't know if you will understand what I'm talking about."
I stood there waiting. For what? If I saw someone else doing this, I would send for the boys in the white coats, but it seemed exactly right for me to be talking to a child dead now fifty six years, who lived a day. I felt almost a physical shove in the back to speak to this boy.

"We're going to have some snow soon, Teddy. I know you see it, but I don't think you know how it feels. Every little boy loves the snow Teddy, take my word for it; it's cold, but it's great. You're lucky you're here because we have a lot of hills for sled riding. The cold wind and snow blows in your face as you coast down the hill. It is something I wish you could have done, Teddy," I said, as a lump formed in my throat. "Hey, I know, I'll build you a little sled and bring it with me the next time I'm here. I'll leave it so you will know what I'm talking about. O.K.?"

I wonder if I'm working too hard?

Christmas was approaching and Mary and I were preparing for the big event, wrapping presents for our children who were no longer children. As we were putting some of the gifts in boxes to be mailed to the one's who lived too far away to come home each year, I smiled as I remembered Christmas's past. Invariably, pictures come to mind of our children growing into adults. Knowing the fine people they had become caused bittersweet feelings of warmth and pride to swell up in me. Christmas music from a CD was playing in the background as Mary and I looked at each other and smiled a small smile, reading each other's thoughts rambling back over many years. As I removed my finger from the middle of a bow in my role as helper, and Mary finished tying it into a fancy ribbon, she suggested a cup of hot chocolate. As we sat on the fringes of our clutter and sipped the chocolate, Mary asked, "You seemed miles away at times tonight. Were you thinking of the children?"
"Of course, how could I not be. Christmas's are for kids. If they weren't coming over, it just wouldn't be the same. You and I could have our Christmas, and you know I enjoy your company more than any other person on the earth, but it really is for kids, as they say."
"Is that all that's bothering you? You've seemed a little distant from time to time. I catch you with that far away look in your eye, when you think I'm not looking. There's nothing wrong with you, is there? Something you haven't told me? She asked, quite serious now.
I smiled, and assured her that I was fine. I then sat silently for a moment or two. "But there is something that I want to talk to you about. It's the strangest thing. I don't know if a few gray cells are leaking out of the old brain or what."
"Now you've really got me worried," Mary said. "Please tell me what's going on with you."
I proceeded to tell her of the two occasions at the cemetery, and my promise to the dead Theodore to bring him a sled.
"I can't explain any of this to you. I don't understand it myself. I sometimes think I'm going bats, that it's nothing but a bunch of silliness, but then it seems quite reasonable."
Mary sat there for a time and then asked, "Well, have you?"
"Have I what, for crying out loud, gone nuts? I hope not."
"Built him a sled?"
I sat there feeling even more love for this woman than I thought possible. She continues to surprise me with her compassion and understanding of me. When I think my cup is full to the brim, she adds a little more.
"Well yes," I said, drawing out the yes with a little uncertainty. "Yes I have."
"When do you plan to deliver it?" she asked very seriously.
Words could not form on my lips; I just smiled a smile of love and relief.

Christmas dinner was nearly over. The empty bowls, spilled gravy, and people sitting back but not leaving the table was proof that Mary had scored another success. The presents had all been distributed to the kids and our grandkids. The grandchildren were still hyped up and wished to leave the table. Remaining at the table were our children and their wives or husbands, and Mary and I. As we were finishing up our coffee, I glanced at Mary, and she nodded.
"I wish all you good folks would excuse me for just a little while. I promised someone I would stop and see them today and I had better get going before the weather worsens", I said as I stood up and Mary accompanied me to the front closet for my coat and gloves.
"Do you want to come along?" I asked.
"No sweets, I think you should go alone. Maybe I will another time," she said as she held my hands. "Do you have the sled?"
"Yes, it's in the car. I won't be long," I said.
"Take all the time you want, if you're too long, I'll make excuses for you."

I remembered to put a folding chair into the car beside the little wooden sled as I started the engine. "What the devil am I doing?" I asked myself as I backed out of the garage. "Well I've been over that enough and questioned my sanity until I didn't care anymore," I thought as I turned on the radio to hear the last of the Christmas songs for the year. Tomorrow they would put all the records away for another year, and the rock tunes would begin again. They were playing the same songs I had heard all my life, Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, I'll Be Home For Christmas, and the rest. I guess I'll never get tired of them. The heater in the car was blasting away, and it was quite comfortable. I was thinking, "When I get home I'll have to take a couple aspirins, I've got this darn ache in my arm. I must have pulled something in the workshop."

As I was pulling into the cemetery, I saw the sun shining down through the trees up ahead. The sunbeam looked like it came directly from heaven. It was beautiful. As I drove through its glow it seemed to light up the whole car, and I could feel its warmth. It made me feel peaceful and very happy to be here. It seemed to follow me on my short journey to Teddy. As I pulled up and stopped, I saw squirrels scampering through the children's markers, hunting any nuts they may have missed before. I took the folding chair and the sled out of the car and went to Teddy.
"Well old boy, here I am." I said, as I dusted the snow off his marker. "And I didn't forget. I brought you the sled."

I unfolded the chair and sat down with Teddy's marker at my feet. "Well my boy, I hope you've got a little time because I've got a lot to tell you. First, I don't know what happened to your Mom and Dad. Perhaps they're there with you, I hope so because little kids should not be alone on Christmas, and they should have a toy to play with. Sled riding is only one of a million fun things you missed, but maybe, if the words come just right, I can tell you what it is I hoped you could have seen and experienced yourself."

"It doesn't seem that many years ago since I was a little boy, although I guess it has been a long time. They say your life flashes by, and before you know it, you're my age. Well Teddy boy, it does go fast. That's one fact you can count on being true."

"Boyhood for you would have been a magical time. You would have learned to ride a bike and play ball. There is nothing more fun for a boy than getting a hit and sliding in the dirt with your friends cheering you on. Then going home and getting hugs from your mom. Your mom would have been a wonderful mom, I just know it. She would probably have spoiled you, but it's all right for children to be spoiled a little."

"Then one day you'd meet another girl you could love as much as your mom, but differently. Your mom would be a little jealous, but that's only natural because you were always just her own little boy, now she'd have to share you. That first kiss with your best girl, oh Teddy you missed so much."

Just then a gust of cold air blew some of the slowly falling snow in my face.

"I have just been reminded by Mother Nature Teddy, that I should tell you
about this beautiful part of the earth on which you would have lived. It is covered with green soft grass, blue oceans, and magnificent mountains. The seasons change from the brisk cold of winter to a clear sparkling spring, a season of a reawakening. Then summer, that magical season when the days are long and so gentle you could have lain down in the grass and dreamt impossible dreams until you dozed off. As a boy, you would have loved summer most of all. No school for three whole months, with time enough to play as much baseball as you wanted, or to explore your neighborhood on your bright red bicycle. It's so wonderful, you would have remembered it all your days as if it were yesterday."

"Then one fine day, perhaps a summer day, you would wed that wonderful girl of yours and if you were very lucky, she would become the mother of your children and the one person who would be with you until your final day on this earth. And it would have begun all over again with your children asking you questions and you would try to protect them all until the time came when your days on earth were over, and you would return to God's home."

I felt tears running down my face as I said these final words to little Teddy, "I feel so badly that you were not given an opportunity to live on this fine earth and feel all the happiness I know you would have found. I just wish there was some way.." Suddenly the ache that was in my arm shot into my head and chest. The pain was excruciating, but then as suddenly as it started it was over, and the cold winter Christmas day that was turning to night became a bright warm day, and I stood and started walking as if I knew exactly what to do and where to go. As I continued walking, the surroundings seemed unfamiliar and yet happily familiar. Feeling confused, I stopped for a moment, but then, a small hand took mine and I understood and was happy.

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