Archive for May, 2012

Reja Vu

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Fort Langley Cemetery
– No Dogs Allowed
– No Pots, Tubs, Boxes, Etc.
– No Planting Trees, Shrubs, Flowers, Etc.
– No Artificial Flowers March-1 to November-1
—–Mowing Season March-1 to November-1
—–Cemetery Open From Dawn to Dusk
—–All Inquiries Phone 534-5965

Here I am in the Loft in Fort Langley. Suzanne is away, and I am fortunate to be welcome here again to restore myself. Oh yes and there’s Pete. Pete the cat is back. Although his tom cat independence has him climbing the roof, making his way home through the open window, it is beyond his ability to lift the heavy bag of cat food down and serve himself. I am delighted to do so.

I sit beneath a high window that faces north. Blue sky, sunshine. A majestic fir tree reigns directly across the street. Every branch dips in the breezes, dancing arms extended in soft green luxuriant shawls. A thick telephone wire stretches side to side ten feet from the window. The squirrels bustle by in a steady parade on their tightrope – stop, wait, start – back and forth, organizing their pantries. From this window too I can see the magnificent tree that rises above the Shed. Funny feeling that, remembering from here the year I spent in my little one room home.

The west windows face out on the town’s main drag, Glover Road. And the neighbour across this road, encompassing more than a block from north to south, is the Fort Langley Cemetery. The Glover Road side is lined with massive chestnut trees. In the Fall the ground is a treasure trove of their shiny brown nuggets. On the corner where Glover meets St. Andrews the march of pink blossomed trees flank the southern parameter. A wrought iron fence encircles the cemetery. It has three gates for walkers and two gated gravel and dirt driveways. The lunatics of the night have knocked quite a few of the heavy two inch spear shaped points off these fence posts. You can find them alongside, imbedded in the grass, and I have kept one to remember my time here.

It is an old cemetery, and an active one. There are moss covered stones that have sunk over the century and sit listing, half submerged in the green lawn. In the nine years I have spent in this village I have seen the holes being dug in the early mornings, and the next day brings the black hearse, the procession of cars, the gatherings of brightly coloured mourners standing together in clusters. From a distance the tilt of their heads is the same. Then they straggle back to their cars, some linger, and then reluctantly go away.

In between the business of burying the dead, the cemetery has another kind of life that involves the living. The townspeople embrace the cemetery as their own. High school kids trail along the path at lunch hour towards the bakery and the convenience store. Parents shortcut through with their kids and their strollers to get to the pool and the swings in the park. We all walk through the cemetery to avoid the traffic, to be engulfed in its quiet, to absorb its peace. To marvel at how quickly the graves are encroaching on the empty lawn. Day by day, year by year, inexorably claiming the earth, the space; soon the cemetery will be full.

I looked across one evening and saw the late golden light through the thick arms of the chestnut trees dancing and glancing on the bright green lawns. Sunlight on shimmering leaves really is dappled. Special, sacred places really do beckon. I descended the stairs, crossed the road to the gate, and went looking for the two friends who had moved there this winter while I was away.

I found Beth first. I called her the lady in red. She was a tiny thing and always wore a red coat and a bright slash of pink lipstick. She and I were both walkers. I could recognize Beth from a distance. Every day she’d walk around the outskirts of Fort Langley at her own pace; enjoying the flowers, the breeze, the quiet of it. When we’d meet she’d lift her face (wrinkled and brown as a perfect little walnut), and I’d see it in her eyes that she’d walked herself into a state of grace. She’d exult in the weather, she’d ask for a hug, and these last couple of years she’d tell me she loved me. I loved her. A huge Canucks fan, she’d scream with delight when I’d ask her if she’d been in the pub, again. She loved being teased, and insisted she was there only for the hockey games on the big screen TV.

Andy was with his beloved Mary. He joined her after four years apart. I remember Andy telling me one day that it was his wedding anniversary and that he wanted to do something special. He didn’t think it was right to go out for lunch with anybody except Mary on their day, so he went to McDonalds by himself and then took her a bouquet of flowers. Andy too was a familiar sight in Fort Langley; with his beige pants, his windbreaker, his baseball cap. Every morning he’d push his walker over to the credit union to have a free cup of coffee. Then on to the post office to pick up his mail. Up until this past year when it got too much for him, he’d have his dachshund with him. The good women in the credit union and the P.O. had dog cookies for Sparky, too.

I loved Andy. We’d discovered that we’d both lived on Quadra Island. I loved his spirit, his positivity. He enjoyed things, he had gratitude. Although he was in his nineties he’d take the bus, the skytrain, and the sea bus on an outing to the Quay in North Vancouver. All that way to sit in the fresh, blowing sea air and have an ice cream cone. It was a shock that winter day in Vancouver, to open the newspaper to the obits and recognize a younger Andy’s smiling face. But I felt happy that he’d died. Not happy that he’d died, but happy knowing that he’d lived so graciously right up until his death. So appreciatively. I haven’t met so many gallant gentlemen, but he was one. And I never met his Mary but I’m glad, thinking of them reunited. Their shared gravestone has a carving of a wiener dog on it, like theirs, and the inscription Together Again.

Not every day is sunny in the graveyard. People stand there crying in the rain. We have all been witness to the heartrending pain. I watch from the window from time to time during the day, a little elevated, a little removed. I see the families cavorting across the grass and along the gravel drives. Everyone is on their way somewhere. Big dogs, little dogs on the heels of their people, out on their walks. Everyone just passing through; to the river, the library, the post office, the shops. Out and about for a gelato. There are markers decorated with pinwheels that spin brightly in the breeze in happy colours. Helium balloons rise on their strings, tug and sway above the graves of the children. I’ve walked amongst the stones, reading the names, realizing the dates, the lengths of people’s earthly lives. Ached over the love, the shrines; stuffed animals, sculpted angels, Lego and hockey sticks, mementos in ribbons and bows, poems, photographs. And flowers, always flowers.

In Archer City, Texas in the kitchen of The Lonesome Dove Inn, a woman from Louisiana told me she had a relative buried in the cemetery in Fort Langley, B.C. I once saw a man crack open two beers, sit down in the lawnchair he’d brought along, place the beer for his son on the stone at his feet, and continue having a conversation that obviously didn’t end with his death. A dark and deserted morning on my way to work, one lone mourner stood at a freshly covered grave. A yellow cab idled, waiting. Smallest, loneliest funeral I’ve ever seen. (But wait! Wait! What if, what if she was the love of his life, and they had been a precious world onto themselves. Now it is only death that is separating them.)

It is late, and time to roll down the blind in the front window. At the other end of Glover a train blows its dissonance as it dissects the road and carries on into the night. I feel the familiar vibration of the heavy railcars as they rumble across the land, following the river. An occasional car emerges beneath the windows, disappears. There is quiet. Across the way, candles flicker whitely, faintly in the deep undisturbed darkness of the cemetery. I hesitate, one hand up, whisper goodnight. Let the bamboo screen fall, leaving me on this side of the light.

Good Life