After my Aunt Katie retired to Beaver Island, she’d always pick me up in her station wagon this time of year, to help her decorate the graves at the cemetery. Her dog rode in the back seat, with his head out the window to catch the breeze. Or, sometimes he’d ride in the front seat between the two of us, trying to get to the window by climbing onto my lap. The back end was loaded with everything else we’d need.
There would be a shovel there, and a couple hand tools for raking and digging, a five-gallon bucket for getting water from the spigot, a smaller bucket, a box of water-soluble plant food, and the flowers. She’d have chosen the plants based on their ability to tolerate the sun and sandy soil, keeping in mind the blooms her mother had loved the best.
At the cemetery, the dog was allowed to run while Aunt Katie and I got to work. First the soil had to be loosened and the weeds pulled out. Holes were dug for the new plants. We’d walk to the spigot together to fill the large bucket with water, and we’d each take hold of the handle to carry it back when it was full. The fertilizer was measured and added to the water. We’d use the small bucket to dip, and we’d fill each hole with this mixture. Next, the plants were set into that muddy space. The dirt was moved back and tamped down around them. Done, except for the clean up.
We always decorated the graves of Aunt Katie’s father, mother and stepmother. Sometimes, if we had enough plants, we’d also do the graves of a couple aunts, uncles, or cousins. It was a nice ritual, and I had planned to continue it now that Aunt Katie is gone. For all the importance she placed on it, she should have flowers blooming on her own grave, too. Yet, for two years in a row now (which is every Memorial Day since she died), I’m ashamed to admit that I forgot.
And, though it’s true I can be thoughtless, and careless about ritual and duty, I’m beginning to think forgetfulness may be a legitimate excuse after all. I have been known for my good memory, but lately I’ve been forgetting a lot. I forget to pay bills; I forget appointments and deadlines. I forget to balance the checkbook, put gas in the car, or what I did with the grocery list. Which I need, because I can’t be trusted to remember what’s on it!
Maybe it’s age, or too many things on my mind, or simply not paying attention. I don’t know the cause, but it’s cropping up all the time. This week, leading up to the holiday weekend, has been a busy one at work. People come to open their homes and cabins for the season; they almost always have to visit the hardware store for one thing or another. So, over the last week, I have been asked about three hundred times, “So, how was your winter?”
“Great,” has been my answer, “I had a good winter!”
To the follow up questions of “wasn’t it hard…wasn’t it cold…didn’t you get a lot of snow,” I stumble. I don’t remember. It was long, I guess. All winters are cold. Was it extreme? I told a couple people that, well, I never missed a day of work all winter due to the weather. Then I wondered if that was even true. I seem to have a vague memory of calling in to say I couldn’t make it in until the road truck came through. Mostly, though, I’ve forgotten.
I think that’s kind of a blessing. Now that spring is here, I’ve been noticing lots of other things that I’d forgotten. Like the way the moisture hangs in the air some days, making everything look foggy and mysterious. And how the ramps and trout lilies come up together in such a wild blaze of green across the forest floor. The way the just-barely-there buds on the ends of the tree branches look like emeralds in the morning light. And how many colors reveal themselves in every single view. It’s like I’m seeing it all for the first time; I’d forgotten how glorious spring can be!