Yesterday Darlene and I drove my parents to the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Sudbury, Mass., to decorate the family graves. My mother brought a red geranium for her family’s plot and one for Dad’s. Their parents are buried in the same row, about a block and a half apart on the orderly grid of the cemetery. Mom also brought a small, white geranium for the grave of my brother, Thomas Skelton Edgerly, who was born with a heart defect on the day after my fifth birthday and lived just four days.
My family are New Englanders, so there is not a lot of emotional hoopla on such occasions. My parents perform this quiet ritual every Memorial Day. I was so glad to be with them this time. I took a photo of my name on the granite marker at the Edgerly plot. I’m not sure if I will be buried by that stone, but it seems right that some of my ashes might end up there, with the rest at Darlene’s family plot in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
I am grateful that I have been able to see my parents grow old. My Dad did not have that opportunity with his father, who died suddenly at the age of 53 while teaching an English class at M.I.T. In the photo above, my father is looking at the headstone of his Dad.
One of the benefits I have gained from accompanying my parents for so many years in this realm is to observe how character is destiny, a favorite saying of my mother’s. My father, 85, uses a cane to steady his steps, but the integrity and purposefulness of his life are as indomitable as ever. You can see his strength in the way he stands in the photo above: shoulders squared, feet planted firmly on the grass. He meets the indignities of aging with dignity and grace, without complaint. This is a motivating model for his son, I can tell you that.
My mother’s contribution to my appreciation of character is the infinite power of creativity and invention. She never gives a medical condition an even break. She will find a new gadget enabling her to outfox her MS. In her kitchen you will often see a small, white box labeled “live bees.” For years, the healing effect of bee stings has been part of her refusal to surrender to illness.
Afterward, we had a nice lunch in a booth at Friendly’s in South Sudbury. Mom and Dad each had a hot dog and a Fribble. They talked about how much Sudbury has changed since they were kids. This morning I’m thinking how much hasn’t.