Author's note: Yesterday I went to visit my ancestor's grave and hometown. I thought I would write up what happened in the graveyard.
"His grave will be unmarked," my mother explained, shutting the car door with a thud, "But it should be here. It will probably be next to his wife's." After visiting my great, great, great uncle's store, we had reached the last leg of our journey and the one that I had been thinking about since we first arrived in the old ghost town: finding his grave marker.
I don't know why this was so important to me. I've always felt closer to people when I'm at their graves, as if…they were watching over us, wherever they may be in the stars and heavens, and I think I gravitated towards the graveyard and the town itself for that reason.
"John, it's your niece. Come out, wherever you are." I heard my mother's voice as she stepped through the overgrown grasses, looking around at the grave markers. I had gone off on my own path through the small site, but stopped for a moment to read one of the markers directly in front of me.
The boy underneath this soil had drowned and died in the river when he was only ten. The very thought that in front of me was the skeleton of that same boy brought a chill down my spine. After a silent moment of reflection on this, I continued onwards and stopped for a moment in front of an old, sweeping magnolia tree, watching the branches as they moved in the breeze.
The pale light, despite the overcast sky, dappled through the holes in its glossy leaves and onto the ground, where a rusted cast iron fence jutted out of the soil, where a fence around a family gravesite had once been.
It was then that I noticed two smooth, light graves under the glow of the leaves, weeds infringing on them from all sides. My heart stilled, as did my very breath, as I looked at them. I knew in that second that I had found it. I had found it.
I carefully walked over to where they were and sat down in the grass. "Hello, John," I said quietly, "It was good to finally see your home." If it had been any other grave, I don't know if I would have had anything to say. But this one felt right. I knew it was his.
I set a hand on the side of the cold stone as a friend would set a hand on his companion's shoulder. For a moment everything seemed to be entirely still, as if the world was holding its breath and submitting to the cold of the winter. I took a quiet breath, feeling stunned at the idea that I was mere feet away from somebody that had made up who I am today.
I've never known John, but I like to think that I do. He's in all of us to some degree. He's my mother and her mother and my brother and me, too…The thought made me smile gently as I looked at the stone in front of me.
"Fern, time to go." I heard my mother's voice as she crunched back through the grasses, watching me out of the corner of her eye. "Goodbye," I whispered, setting a small yellow mum on the grave.