Life with my mother was no walk in the park. It was a stroll through the cemetery. In winter. In blizzard conditions. She so loved an adventure.
Every December, like clockwork, she bought wreaths for my grandparents’ graves. Then she’d wait or, let’s be generous, maybe forget they were in the trunk of the car. Either way, flying snow and howling wind had the effect of a starter’s pistol. She’d be seized with the urge to move. Grab your coat and let’s go.
No-o-o-o-o-o. I didn’t want to. I didn’t enjoy these outings. Why me, why did I have to go? Take my sister, take the dog, take anyone. I was glum; she was giddy as we skidded along mostly deserted, very snowy streets. This being Illinois, the city is a virtual flatlands, but towering bluffs and treacherous, winding hills awaited us in the cemetery.
Once through the gates, the road disappeared. No more curbs or sidewalks, no tire tracks, just an endless white world. A blank canvas. Every now and again a grave marker or family mausoleum poked up, a reminder of where I was — as if I’d forget. It was spooky; utterly still and creepy quiet. You could almost, almost hear the snowflakes land.
We moved at a crawl, the tires struggling for traction. On the final twisting incline, perhaps eighty yards from our goal, the wheels spun helplessly. Too steep. Oh, goody, I’d have to get out and walk. That’s when it hit me: how would I find headstones under two flipping feet of snow? My mother handed me a broom and the wreaths.
I trudged forth into the eerie hush. I promise you, it was otherworldly and deeply unnerving. Quiet like that is unnatural and the only place it exists is deep inside a cemetery during a snowstorm. My crunchy footsteps were the only sound. Nearby, a tree branch snapped under the weight and I screamed like a teakettle, hightailing it back to the car, wreaths and broom flapping.
My mother was beyond amused, her laugh echoed like gunshots. And she kept right on snickering as we headed back to civilization. In reverse. That’s right, with nowhere to turn around, we backed out of an entire cemetery. Okay, only as far as the rickety little bridge, where — not at all surprisingly — a rear wheel skidded off the edge.
Have you ever called for roadside assistance from a graveyard? It took three tries until someone took us seriously. The tow truck driver thanked us for making his day.
My mom died in 1993, but the memories will abide forever. She was the greatest friend I’ll ever know.
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