Monday, January 30, 2017

© 2017 By Jack Bogut

            A wedge of honking geese headed south in ragged formation appeared overhead and flew into the edge of the setting sun and disappeared, only to re-emerge from the other side, smaller and farther away.  He looked at the sky and then back at her. She exhaled and nodded. The expression on their faces said the same thing: thank god it’s time to quit.
They’d been out in the field before dawn that day and watched the night shrink away as the sun came up, pulling warmth and then shimmering heat over the morning.  Now the shadows were getting longer again, their edges softening as they covered and started to darken everything at ground level. They were both bone tired.
            Dust from the old tractor and binder just behind it hung over the field, almost motionless, settling slowly, softly in the still air.  Uniform, short, hollow stems that, moments before, had been tall stalks of grain, sat like soda straws, piercing the warm earth, looking from a distance like a blond crew-cut.  This was the last pass, the final cut in this field, the final field. The harvest was done.
            As they headed for the house, a soft breeze and lengthening shadows pushed a layer of cool air around them and brought back familiar smells missing through the heat of the day.  Musty autumn dew was starting to form on the dry pasture grass and smelled clean, like rain on the wind. 
As they got closer to the house, an aromatic mixture of roast beef and onions, boiled potatoes, dark brown gravy, fresh biscuits cooling in a window and fresh coffee brewing, spread through their senses like perfume.
            Again they glanced at each other as they neared the end of the field and went about their tasks without speaking.  He stepped on the clutch and stopped the tractor; she swiveled in her seat, stepped off the mower and walked to the gate. She put her shoulder against the end of it and squeezed with her arm until she could get the wire loop off over the top of the post. It took almost all the strength she had left. She walked the gate open, leaning on the length of the wire and mouthed the words over the noise of the tractor,
”I thought you were going to fix this gate.”
He tilted his head and nodded silently,
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” raising his eyebrows and looking a little sheepish.
 The last rays of the sun highlighted her features with shadow as she waited for him to pull through. As he passed he thought, how pretty she is. 
            Then he stopped the tractor and turned to watch her struggle with the gate as she closed it, waiting for her to get back on her seat for the short ride to the house.  Instead, she shook her head, walked past the tractor and waved him on, one hand above her hip rubbing her back.  
            She made her way to the overhead fuel tank and took the hose from the hook as he stopped the tractor and turned the motor off. He stood up, leaned forward over the steering wheel and unscrewed the worn, chrome gas cap. She tried to hand him the hose but he shook his head and said,
“No, you do it. I gotta’ get this kink out of my back.”
She reached high and inserted the nozzle, squeezed the handle and watched fumes wiggle out of the filler pipe like transparent worms. She always liked the smell of gasoline.  It seemed to clear her head of the dust that lingered in her nostrils. 
            “Makes your eyes bright, ya' know that?” He said, beating the dust out of his clothing with his hat.
            “What’re you talkin’ about?”  She asked back, doing the same to her skirt with her free hand.
            “The smell of that gas. Puts a little gleam in your eye.”
            “Humph!”  She snorted as she smiled.
            They stood looking at each other until she ran the tank over just a little bit and released the handle with a snap:
            “There!  Look what you’ve done.” She said with mock anger in her voice.
            “Me. Me?  You’re the one filling the tank.”
            “You know what I mean, talkin’ like that.”
            “Like what?” He countered.
            She ignored the question.
            “Uh, wanna' step behind the barn?”  He asked, looking at her with a small, silly grin on his face.
            She ignored that question too, turning her head slightly to one side, able to control a smile but unable to hide the laughter in her eyes.
            “Crops are good this year, better’n any in ten years I’ll bet,” he said, taking a deep breath, looking back at the field.
            She stepped alongside him and put her arm around his waist, hooking her thumb in a belt loop.  “Smells like the kids have supper ready.”  She said.
            “Well, guess that eliminates going behind the barn, huh?”
            “Since the kids are looking out the window, I’d say it does,” she answered.
            So he put his arm around her shoulder and they walked toward the house in perfect unison, he shortening his step to match hers, she lengthening her stride to match his, as the sky continued to fill with darkness, shrinking their world to the light and life in the house.

            It had been a good day. And it was suppertime.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

© By Jack Bogut

            The gravel road sounded like the crunch of snow as we drove through the gate at the old cemetery. As the car rolled to a stop, all conversation ended and silence descended on us, not by any grand design - we just stopped talking.
            Uncle Ray shut off the engine and we all sat there, as if we were waiting for the heavy quiet to lift and allow us out of our seats.  Then I asked softly,
            "Where are they?"
            "Over there," my aunt Clarice replied as we opened all four doors simultaneously and spilled out into the day.
            And there we were, each of locked in our own private moment; profoundly personal because no two people see or remember anyone exactly the same way.  This is even more true when we recall someone gone.  Two people whose faces each one of us could see vividly in our own minds were buried in this place somewhere: my Grandma, and Uncle Elvin.
            The cemetery was draped over a hilltop like a green afghan.  The grass waved back and forth, almost like a shiver on this cold day. Then, a deep shadow swooped down like a raven as a late autumn wind stole most of the heat from our faces and hands and moaned off through the sparse trees.  The chill in the air was bone deep. And it was so quiet.  Even though the only barrier to the noisy outside world was a rusty old fence, it seemed like all sound ceased inside the wire.
            The school yard across the street was full of children. The high pitched blanket of noise they made filled the neighborhood around the school but seemed to soften at the fence.  Perhaps sounds of the outside world diminish inside cemeteries because the life and times within us gets so much louder.  
            It had been many years since I'd been to that old cemetery to pay my respects and I'd forgotten where my grandmother and uncle were buried.  My Aunt's, "...over there" meant east of the car somewhere, so I wandered off by myself, trying to find their graves by reading headstones.

            I felt a little embarrassed searching; I should have known the location of their graves, and I was not comfortable reading and skipping over all those names I didn't recognize.  Each grave marker I didn't know was a private moment that belonged to someone else, someone who knew the names I saw and could remember faces that would play back in their memory like a movie.
            I paused at the grave of a young man killed in Viet Nam, twenty four years old.
"I owe you," I thought.  "If not you, maybe my son," and John's face flashed through my mind, bright eyed, handsome, alive.
            I stood there until the cold wind pushed me on.
"Grandma, where are you?”  I said, laughing softly out loud. "I'm looking; I'm looking…" 
I could almost feel her watching me, and hear her voice again: 
            "Well, there you are, Jackie, wandering around again.  Are you lost, or looking for something?"
            I'd heard her say that so many times when I was chasing a grasshopper or watching a cloud graze its way across the sky or daydreaming instead of working.  Then Uncle Ray broke the silence. 
"Over here," he called.
            We gathered together and stood, close to one another and yet very much alone, each of us lost in thought and immersed in memories of faces, places, times and stories; remembering meals and chores, clear nights and Sundays, blizzards and dust, birds and snakes, animals and tumbleweeds, sunshine and stars, sickness and laughter, the touch of a hand and the sadness of good-bye.
            Standing in that old cemetery I could almost feel the grass reach up and wrap around my ankles.  Something seemed to be telling me,
            "Part of your roots are in this place.  Today you are here, and all that you have been gathers in you. And all the time you have left begins here, now, in this place."
            Ever wonder why most cemeteries are on hilltops?  The practical part of us says better drainage, a better place to put graves.  But the deepest human side of us says cemeteries are on hilltops because, if we take the time to look and reflect, they give us vision.  Cemeteries allow us to see in all directions.  Up and down; North and south; East and west; Present and past.

            Visiting a Cemetery can be like reading a road map. It's easier to get to where you're going if you know where you are.  And you can always find where you are, if you know where you've been.         

            Each of us is bound to the past by those who've had their turns around the park.  And we're tied delicately to the future by the steady rhythm of our own heartbeats. 

A cemetery gives us vision to find where we are and who we are by helping us remember where we've been and whom we've left behind.