In the early afternoons of late autumn days, the shadow of a fading sun creates a path from the cemetery driveway to the plot where my parents are buried. A little less than six weeks separated the deaths of my parents this spring.
My Dad died first and in the time my Mom had left I would take her to the cemetery.
Every chance she got.
I pushed her wheelchair through tall grass to the gravesite where seeds were waiting to sprout. Mom never got to see the headstone she was so curious about, but she did fire off a zinger to the headstone salesperson as we picked out the marble bookmark.
Although she was battling dementia, Mom said, “The next time you see me I won’t be here.”
My Mom never said much when she got to the place of her gravesite.
She never wanted to stay too long. Was she thinking of the 65 years of marriage she spent with my father. Die she wonder where she was going? Was she in a hurry?
Sense of place is an important component of books I have written; soul food restaurants on the civil rights trail, supper clubs and even minor league baseball in small town America. But place has grabbed my attention in the five months since my mother’s death.
Place seems to be all over the place.
This week we are getting an appraisal for the house I grew up in. My parents are buried within walking distance of my high school and the chapel where I was once married. On Sunday I sat on the back porch and saw red-breasted robins I do not see in the city.
My Mom loved birds, for their place is everywhere.
Mom died peacefully in my old bedroom. Not long ago I was stuck behind an ambulance on Western Avenue in Chicago. Suddenly my thoughts jumped to the April morning when we put my father into an ambulance to take him to hospice care in Barrington. He died three days after the ride up Route 59. He never returned to the place he called home.
I didn’t think I would be a cemetery guy, but every time I travel to the western suburbs I check in at the gravesite. When they were alive I didn’t know where my parents had picked out their plot. I did know Mom was happy that it was by the shade of oak and maple trees, so beautiful in the autumn.
This 173-year-old cemetery is a new place for me.
I meditate there. I thank my parents. With the diversion of baseball over, I look at th charcoal clouds and brace myself for my first holiday season without them. I think how fortunate I am that they lived so long. My Dad’s 95th birthday would have been Nov. 17; my Mom’s 94th birthday would have been Dec. 10. Damn, they did everything together. Why am I alone in this place?
Suddenly, I see my parents in all kinds of places; the cemetery, back at the house, in Section 242 of Wrigley Field and the LaQuinta between the Cracker Barrel and Waffle House in Nashville, Tn., the motel where they stayed to visit my brother and nephew. George Jones loved that Waffle House on Harding Place. My Dad loved Shirley Jones.
My brother and I told our folks how lucky they were. Some markers for their cemetery neighbors read:
“A candle that glows twice as bright burns half as long.” Dead at 30 years old in 1992.
“I will always be a dreamer,” 1949-1999
“Chatter & Tank” (Chatter 1946-2005; Tank 1944-2007)
“Our beautiful baby girl” (April 15, 2003-May 4, 2003)
“Do not stand at my grave and weep/I am not here, I do not sleep/ God’s angels have carried me to heaven above/and now I watch over the ones I love.
I am not here, I do not sleep.”
A tree by the side of the driveway was planted in honor of one of my high school classmates. His small marker says he left this earth at age 37. A silver water pump sits not far from the tree. Last week an older man parked his car near the pump. He got out of his car, filled up a plastic jug with water and walked over to a gravesite. He emptied the jug in front of the headstone and stood there for less than two minutes. He then walked back to his car, got in and drove away. Leaves fell in unison and they made a crackling, rhythmic sound that soon will be stilled, only to return next year.
People count on defined places: church, the neighborhood diner, Wrigley Field, a corner bar and a grandmother’s home.
But every place has a path that once was new.
NEW ORLEANS—This is a Big Easy encounter that does not involve alcohol.
Well, I did have one Swizzle with my tofu banh mi at Latitude 29, a new tiki bar and restaurant tucked away near the Mississippi River. (The superb venue is named as a nod to New Orleans latitude on the map and has the same designer as Taboo Cove in Las Vegas and Le Tiki Lounge in Paris.)
After dinner I walked back to the Olivier House, my French Quarter stomping ground. A woman stood in the middle of Bourbon Street trying to hustle customers into an establishment. She wore a baseball cap that said “I Love Haters!” She had it tilted on her head like Cubs relievers Fernando Rodney and Pedro Strop.
This made me smile.
I had to get this cap.
I found it on Amazon, but I had to have it immediately, I was afraid the idea of owning an “I Love Haters!” cap wouldn’t be so funny when I got back to Chicago.
After our Saturday afternoon “People’s Place” book signing at the wonderful Southern Food & Beverage Museum, book photographer Paul Natkin dropped me off on Canal Street. There’s dozens of mid-range clothing stores and cheeseball souvenir shops where I was told I would locate the cap.
I found a silver and black “I Love Haters!” cap in the second store I entered. The Oakland Raiders color scheme made sense for such a fierce statement.
By the time I made it to the counter I was so fixated on the cap–which I still found funny—and the affordable price ($7.99)–I didn’t realize I was standing in line with a bunch of African American women buying blouses and lingerie.
The small woman behind me asked, “Do you have haters?”
Before I could answer, she continued, “We all have haters.”
I had to agree with that. Someone probably hates this post. I once had an editor who hated me for writing about “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.”
While holding her red undergarments, the customer lectured me about how the “I Love Haters!” cap was a woman’s cap. I hated to disagree with her, seeing how the store was filled with women.
And men can’t love haters!?
Then she asked, “Are you a transsexual?”
This was when I thought I better not buy the cap after all. I may “Love Haters!” but I wasn’t sure of my stand on “Sassy Ladies!”
The next day I couldn’t get the “I Love Haters!” cap out of my head. On late night television I saw the flamboyant Joe Zee on a “Fab Life” television show talking about “trend adventurous.” I heard the clarion to man up. And why did I succumb to such playful pressure? Perhaps the woman with the red underwear just hated the idea of me buying the haters cap.
I look like such a nice guy.
I marched back to the store the next morning and bought the cap. The same clerk was behind the counter. She smiled at me.
Loving all haters is a good way to start the day.
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