Faye and I were not exactly dancing in the streets but we felt pretty proud of ourselves. Dancing up and down the rows. Then I was suddenly seized with an inspiration. An almost visceral urge. I will lay down by the grave, flat on the ground and make a snow angel. Would an angel not it be perfect, would it not be poignant? It seems so. It seems a way to connect with him and leave an imprint of my presence at that spot. But I do exhibit some presence of mind. I realized that I would get snow down my neck, up my sleeve, in my boots under my coat and other places (we won’t go there). I decide in that moment that I do not love him that much, that I do have my limits. It was my Richard Holmes moment.
I told Faye of this urge. She cleverly suggested that we get a kid to do it. Good idea on the surface. But she’s got no grandkids of the little size. We thought of two alternatives. One is to kidnap a kid. Not a bad idea, but a little difficult to execute and it is just before Christmas. And what would we do with the kid after he/she has done the snow angel? Take the kid back? I guess, but the little brat might get attached and not want to go back. And then there are always the authorities.
The other idea is to go public, like travel to a mall and offer to pay the kid to come and do it. But picture two old ladies in a mall offering kids money to come with them to a graveyard. We (probably Faye) shows some sensibility and suggests that the folks might not trust our motivation. Perhaps consider us to be pedophiles. Well me anyway. I did have the sneaking suspicion that it was going to be me that will have to be doing the coaching. Faye might be driving the get away car but it will be me in the mall with the cash in hand saying; “Want some candy and some money little kid?”
SO, I switched gears. I thought of those one-piece jobbies. Like a ski outfit I used to have, or a skidoo outfit, then snow would not get up neck, my sleeves, in the arms and other places (again we won’t go there.) But there is no time to negotiate that move as I had an appointment to meet with a Regina Leader Post reporter.
I thought it could wait until the next day. But tomorrow and tomorrow crept its petty pace and the dream was not realized. My brother Denis, in a rare spirit of generosity, arranges for an airplane ticket and so I do not have to get on the dreaded bus again. Then from safety I email the Niece’s Nexus. Here is the correspondence.
My God has this ever been an eventful and amazing journey, this trip to Canada to see you all. (Except for Pat who joins us in spirit and via email) I will write at length about it – actually a whole bloody book. But at this moment I have a couple of questions to ask Faye.
Faye and I were in the Regina Cemetery and were having more than a little trouble finding Uncle Dave’s grave because it has snowed and Uncle Dave’s stone is flat. Stupid idea, by the way, to all of those who are contemplating a regular burial. Well stupid if you are in a place with snow and have two nieces looking for you. (This will not happen to me, I will assure you. Not enough nieces who give a damn and not planning going down in a place with snow). Faye is so incredibly resourceful – she gets in her car (where it is warm) uses her phone and dials WHO – that Faye is the question. Who did you phone? It was some cemetery association or something. We went through a couple of people who were not equipped for the task but some rather brilliant woman (Faye, do you remember her name?) gets on the phone and does this sort of air traffic control guidance and count down (it is the third grave on the left) and we do find it. It was a moment of victory and came none too soon for my California blood. So Faye, those are the two questions, who did you phone and do you remember the person’s name we talked to? Also Faye maybe do a fact check, what day was it, do you remember? And did I miss anything or get it incorrect? What kind of car do you have? It is not an instance of when (like when a joke goes flat) you say: “You had to be there!” Unfortunately everyone has to be there on that day. It is essential for the book.
Do all of you know that phrase #GOOB? I will never understand what “#” means – I know you say it “hash tag” but what does that mean? Anyway GOOB stands for Good Out Of Bad and that is actually my motto. So when something bad happens – like the disappearing grave – you turn it into something good. Good being your cousin calls the air traffic control board of graves and gets the coordinates. And then you get to write to your long lost cousins and tell them all about it. I mean, can life get any better?
Faye efficiently responds: “Hey Alexis The who that I called was the City of Regina Cemeteries Department, located in our City Hall. The person that we ended up speaking with was, I think, named Robin. That is what is coming to mind, but I can’t be certain of that. You were riding in a 2014 Mazda CX9.
We had only had a small amount of snow in Regina prior to your visit, but more of it seems to have arrived with you, and continued until we left for Florida. You described it as looking through drifts of snow to find the grave, while I (tough Reginan) called it a “skiff” of snow. You said you wanted to remember that word, so this is my opportunity to remind you of it. The fact that the grass was still showing through the snow at the time would have meant that you would have ended up getting quite dirty had you actually followed through with your wish to make a snow angel beside Dave’s grave. Nice thought, but totally impractical for anyone over the age of 12.
I hope that answers your questions satisfactorily.”
I email back. At this point I am in Vancouver with cousin Gail. Faye is now in Florida, she and husband Larry have fled the cold and snow of winter in Saskatchewan.
“Faye, Gail and I are having lunch at White Spot. We are howling with laughter at your responses – just howling!! We are probably going to get arrested.
One more thing (Ms. Skiff accuracy) what is the license plate of the Mazda? Don’t complain, even if you have to go outside and check, it’s warm there! Or you could always send Larry. (Hi Guy!) Alexis (Dryburgh to be)”
She emails back:
“I did not have to go outside, it is SHEFFER.”
I return to London just at the moment when Paul Kalanthi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air is being released with much fan fare. His wife Lucy pens an article: My Marriage Didn’t’ End When I Became a Widow. It was eerie. She speaks of being so grief-stricken that she could barely sleep. She goes to her husband’s grave, lays on top of it and then ”slept more soundly than I had in weeks”. She says it was not the vista that provoked this internal sense of piece but the thought that “it was Paul, just there, under the earth.I laid on the grass instead, my cheek against the ground.”
Perhaps my angel in the snow is more than just some screw loose thinking on my part. Perhaps there is a deeper truth operating here. Lucy returns to the grave site, “stroking the grass if it were his hair, talking to him in nicknames that only he would understand.”
If I would have done the snow angel I cannot manage a tender and esoteric conversation. I would be complaining, I just know it. I would be saying: “Thanks a lot Uncle Dave! I am so cold and despite the protective gear there is snow everywhere and I do mean everywhere! The things we do for love.” I can imagine he would respond: “I didn’t ask you to come in the middle of winter, and I really didn’t ask you to do this snow angel, you silly old girl.” Or else he would say, as he did through cousin Carol-Ann: “You work so hard! I am so proud of you!” “You are bringing this family together.” And he would give us all a big hug, like he did in January, 2016.
In case, at this point, you are looking at me askance, Kathryn Hughes did admit, in writing, in Fever that “Eliot herself… was sending me encouraging little prods from beyond the grave to let me know that she was happy with her choice and the way my work was gong.”
But back to widow Lucy, she goes on to quote C.S. Lewis, his views and hers on bereavement. The vows made on her wedding day have “stretched well beyond death.” She speaks of “doing right by him, especially as I raise our daughter, will never end.” My uncle and I exchanged no vows during our lifetimes and there is no kid to raise, but I do promise, (and am putting it in writing in lawyer like fashion) that I will do my very best, do my everything to bring together the fragmented family you left behind. I do this because of something I read today. It was part of an obituary written for a playwright and described the impact of her work . “They’re stories about survival, but not at the expense of wonder, and hope, and the dream we all share— the dream of inclusion, of being cherished, remembered, and loved.”
The memory of you Uncle Dave is making those who remain feel cherished, remembered and included. You are truly with me! Otherwise how could all of this come about?
In Lucy’s life, she brings friends to Paul’s grave, watches the sunset and does “pour a beer out for him.” Not happening Uncle Dave, particularly in the winter!
Leave them laughing is my motto, and apparently Faye’s. This is the final picture we take at the cemetery. It is the gravestone (above the ground, please note) of a woman called Puckall. We giggle like adolescent boys at the strange name. I tell Colette of the fun I have with my cousins and remark: “They all have such quirky senses of humor!” She said: “Alexis, did it ever occur to you that you just might bring out the quirky in people.” I ponder this, she might just be right.