When I was a kid, there were two family friends that I thought of as an aunt and uncle: De and George. Only later did I grow up and learn that we were not, in fact, related, and that they were not, in fact, married: they were siblings who chose to live together and help each other out, and then simply remained in that arrangement until George’s death in 1996. That doesn’t change the fact that De made the best lasagna in the entire universe, and used to construct me “log cabins” out of toast for breakfast. George smoked too much and loved to talk about anything and everything.
De and George had a city house for the winter, and a one-room cottage house on Assateague Island for the summers. For a while, they had a big tom cat named Mr. Whiskers who had really long canine teeth. He attacked a dog who came onto their summer property and broke one of those canines off. They also had a dog, Drake, who used to sing for cookies and was scared of the fly swatter. De introduced me to reggae and let us pick strawberries from her garden, and George would ask us about school before he’d tell us about his hand-carved ducks.
When George died, my parents promised him they’d put a wreath on his grave in the Fort Lincoln Cemetery. He’s high up on a hill, under some large oak trees, and right next to his son.
This year, a co-worker sent out an e-mail stating that his wife was making and selling boxwood wreaths decorated with natural elements, like holly and juniper berries and pine cones. I purchased two 12″ wreaths from her, and on December 11 (my parents’ 34th wedding anniversary), we drove up to Lanham to pick up my Grandmother and then made our first stop at Fort Lincoln. We parked and got out of the warm car and into the crisp, December wind. The ground was wet and soggy, and many of the bronze memorials (which lie flat on the ground to make it easier for grounds maintenance) were covered in leaves. We searched for George for over an hour.
Cold, dirty and getting frustrated, we drove back down to the cemetery office to get a map. Back at the burial site we continued our search, laughing about how George was probably somewhere laughing his ass off, saying “That’s what you get for forgetting my wreath last year!” About a half an hour of searching later, when a very kind black man in a nice, full-length camel colored pea coat came over and helped us. He showed us where to look for the grave site number on the memorials, and then we found George. We cleared off his memorial as best we could (it was pretty muddy) and set up the bronze vase as a holder for the wreath. We took a moment to pay our respects and wish George a Merry Christmas, and then got back in the car to head over to Grandpa’s.
Grandpa now resides at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery. The last time we visited him, the grass hadn’t grown in yet and there was a big crevasse in the earth at the end of his plot. I remember looking up at Mom and Dad and saying, “Grandpa got out!” This time, Grandpa was surrounded by a well-manicured, leaf-free lawn and the same biting December wind that used our hair as tooth floss and made our red noses run. We placed a boxwood, juniper and pine cone wreath on Grandpa’s headstone — Grandma chose the juniper wreath for her late husband because he was color-blind, and therefore wouldn’t have been able to see the red holly berries against the greenery. Good call, Grandma, and Merry Christmas, Grandpa!
It was really nice to be able to spend the day visiting our dearly departed while in the company of loved ones. The day was made even more special when you consider that my Grandma just had her 94th birthday on November 30!
I hope that everyone takes a moment this holiday season to spend time with those that mean the most to them. Merry Christmas!