Sittin' on Grandma's Grave


Tahlia MacFarlane

I come here sometimes, to this long ago cemetery wherein lie the peasants and the privileged of past Columbus society. I sit on my grandmother's grave and try to commune with her. It never works. I have tried meditating until the remnants of her spirit reach up and touch mine. I have sat and sobbed until my tears washed clean circles into the dirt-encrusted stone that covers my grandmother. But she never answers me. This lady I never knew in life will be, forever, a stranger to me.

There are so many things I want to ask her. I want to know if she is proud to be my grandmother, if she would have rocked me when I was small and told me stories and given me cookies fresh from the oven. I want know if she can explain to me why it is that I have never fit into my family; why I have felt, for as far back as I can remember, like an intruder into the lives of those around me.

Grandmothers are supposed to know these things and make you feel better about them. Grandmothers say, "There, there, don't you listen to those awful people. You know you're the most special person in the world to me." A grandmother tells your parents to leave you alone and then she reminds them of how awful they were when they were little. Grandmothers treat a winter cold like it was a terminal illness and brag about your piano recital as though you had performed at Carnegie Hall. When you don't want to go home with your parents, a grandmother says you can spend the night at her house. Then, she lets you stay up a little past your bedtime and reads you stories after she tucks you in.

Grandmothers never lie to you. They always tell you the truth, no matter how hard it is. When the truth is too awful to tell, grandmothers promise you that they will explain it later, when you are older, and they do, too. And when there's nothing left to be said, and no words will do, grandmothers just hold you and hug you and make you feel loved.

So, here I sit, on a cold slab of marble, trying to commune with a grandmother who has been dead longer than I have lived. It isn't much to ask, I tell her, just to rally her forces into one tiny moment that will let me feel a brief second of her love.

I look out over all the graves in this historic site and see much of my lineage lined up before me on fading headstones. Aunts, uncles, great-grandparents, cousins. I know them all, though I have met none of them. They are my family, and it is here that I, the only living one among them, do not feel out of place. But I am not one of them, not yet. I do not belong here; so, I rise to leave and return to the other place where I do, and do not, belong.

As I walk past my grandmother's grave, a tiny yellow butterfly sails down and flutters right in front of my face. It darts slightly left and right, but it does not fly away. Slowly, I lift my hand beneath it. The butterfly settles cotton softly onto my outstretched finger, its wings gracefully fanning up and down. Then, it rises, brushes against my face and flies away. I turn to watch it settle on my grandmother's grave. I feel warm inside. I have been kissed.

Historic Linwood Cemetery; Columbus, GA Grave of Maude Howard Evans

Sittin' on Grandma's Grave. ©2003 by Tahlia MacFarlane. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.