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Magnetic North - May 23, 2018

Maple Hill Church by Bryan Hansel
Maple Hill Church by Bryan Hansel

Magnetic North 5/14/18
 
Cemetery Competition 
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where winter’s grip is but a memory, albeit one leaving a few bruises. Just when green grass and the melody of spring peeper frogs at dusk enters our world, so too does the annual search for the stuff we put away last fall - or did we throw it away or donate it? You know, the rakes, gardening tools, bug hats and so forth. 

Living for years with a fastidious man of Norwegian descent only made my seasonal treasure hunt more torturous… Mr. Take-and-Put was my nickname for Paul. He relished packing up gear to a fare thee well, with yards of duct tape encircling boxed items in the style of Egyptian mummies. The parcel would then be labeled with black magic marker in big uppercase letters. “GARDEN TOOLS: TROWEL, HAND RAKE, DANDELION ROOT GRABBER...” and so on. But then came the fatal flaw in his otherwise brilliant moves.

He stowed the boxes and promptly forgot where they were. The barn, the garage rafters, the back forty cabin, any one of five sheds? One year we replaced 75 feet of garden hose before finding the neatly coiled, taped and labeled sections in the old outhouse next to the chicken coop. Why there?  Why not there, he asked, adding that his Norwegian grandmother always said that “When you come to where a thing is, you find it.” Clearly, something had been lost in the translation.

And, even though it has been five years, this past week since Paul’s passing, I still have not “come to where” certain things he stowed away are on the farm. .So when I visited his grave last week, I hoped for some insight or clues as to where certain missing items might be tucked away. Paul’s and my parents' graves at Maple Hill Cemetery are in a lovely spot tucked under the sloping branches of a thirty-foot red pine and overlooking the picture postcard old white clapboard church.

Every big day, like birthdays, holidays and such, I visit and leave a box of DOTS candies, his favorites on the marker stone. The stone is nothing fancy. Flush with the ground, as is required for grass cutting, with Paul’s name and dates of birth and death and the inscription, “A life well loved”. It’s a place of peace and memories for me. And sometimes answers. Both large and small.

This year, as in years past, I wondered aloud about the location of such farm items as the fence tightening tool. But before I even got out of my car on the steep little hill running by the gravesite, I was struck by two things that irked me. First, the shepherds crook plant hanger was gone and second, Paul’s plot looked positively naked in comparison to the plots to the left and right of his. Both of these had been planted with daffodil bulbs, now in full bloom. All Paul’s and my parents’ monuments had for adornments were dead pinecones and a box of candy. And just like that, my sweet nostalgia morphed into the green-eyed monster of envy, accompanied by her faithful sidekick, resentment.

Bad enough that someone swiped the plant hanger, I stewed. But what really got my nanny were those oh-so-perky and delightful daffodils. It was all I could do to refocus on the reason I’d come to the place, even as I slurped down Paul’s favorite, strawberry malted began reciting Shakespeare’s sonnet, one hundred sixteen - now an annual ritual for birthday visits. You know, the one that begins, 
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove”

But not even the bard could restrain my thoughts from fastening on the stolen plant hanger. “What kind of person would rob a plant hangar from a grave?” I fumed mid-stanza. “The kind who had never heard of karma, obviously!” 

But back to Shakespeare…
“O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”
“Oh Yeah,” my resentful little mind butted in. “TAKEN is the word, alright. Maybe I should install one of those remote cameras.  On the red pine and catch the miscreant in the act.”
And then, back to the sonnet,
“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”

And with that, I blew my nose, finished the strawberry malt and said my farewells. Three days later, though, I was back, with a lavish basket of shade tolerant indigo blue flowers that I know will bloom their little hearts out all summer long.
I chuckled as I place the basket on the headstone-the shepherd’s crook hanger is on order. “I’ll see your daffodils,” and raise you one cascading extra-large lobelia basket.”

Then, I watered the ridiculously lavish basket, just the kind Paul would have splurged on, and finished Shakespeare’s lines about what love is and is not. 

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Driving out of the little cemetery this time, I was smiling with pleasure, even as I wondered aloud where my Mr. Take-and-Put stowed that fence tightener.  Ah, well, when I come to where the thing is, I’ll find it. Right?
 
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.
 

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