April 13, 1925
I am quiet, and they are quiet beside me. I gaze silently at the gravestone, discolored by weather and age. The words are hardly decipherable, but I don’t need to read them. They are etched in my heart.
My granddaughter comes forward, slips her hand in mine. I look away. I hate for her to see my tears.
“It’s getting late,” she says softly, but I pretend I don’t hear. She says it again, louder this time.
“I’m not done,” I tell her. I am old. I will take my time.
“Grandma, the children…”
I look at them, sitting idly on another gravestone. Bobby’s face is in his hands. He sighs loudly, looks at his mother. I turn my eyes to Lindie, who skips through the cemetery, humming to herself. Each day, she reminds me more and more of her mother.
I nod. “You’re right. We may go.”
Anna kisses my cheek, gathers her flock, and ushers them toward the tall, iron gates. I spend one more moment by the grave, close my eyes, and imagine his face. He is not so clear anymore. Sometimes he is not there at all. The guilt is strong in those moments, the days I cannot remember his face or his laugh.
“It was so long ago, Grandma,” Anna would say. “Don’t let it bother you.”
She doesn’t understand; but I cannot expect her to. She was not there, and times are different. So much has changed.
“Grandma,” she calls from the gate, Lindie balanced on her hip. “Bobby! Stop right—Grandma, please hurry.” She chases after Bobby, who darts to the automobile. Strange thing, the car.
I sigh. Back to the living, I think. It’s time to put the past behind me. I take my time catching up. My old bones creak; my muscles move slowly. The cane digs into the muddy ground, and I notice just how brilliant the grass is, a bright and healthy green on a gray, dreary day. I do not belong here, among new grass and blooming flowers.
I am old. I am wilting, I know that. I do not fear it. But I am terrified of fading. Like him, my features will run, bleed together until I am gone. No memory will keep me, no picture will capture my features. I will fade until I am no more.
And when that happens, who will know my name? Who will hear my story? I fear that all I’ve learned, all I’ve gained, and all I’ve lost, will be for nothing.
I try to forget the grass, the flowers, and my fear.
It is late, later than I have been awake in a long while. Usually sleep comes quickly but not tonight. Tonight I remember too clearly to sleep, my mind sharp, crisp. I see the grave, his name carved into the stone: Thomas Loraine. His is not the only grave I visit, but for some reason his is the one I remember most clearly. And tonight I see his face.
I had returned home much before I desired, in early 1863. They told me I couldn’t go on, I was in no shape to care for another. My mother said my heart was too full. I never asked her full of what? Full of pain? Sorrow? After she passed away, on nights such as these, I would talk to her, and more than once, I asked her. I imagined her crackly, old voice (she was quite aged when she passed on) in my mind. She would say, “Full of love, Elizabeth Mae. Just love.”
But for a long time, she said nothing. And the memories killed me, night after night. So I tried to forget the memories, and for awhile, I was all right. And then, one night (I can’t really say what triggered it) as I lay in the dark, my husband sleeping by my side, I realized I couldn’t see the faces anymore. They were gone. That was when the guilt became worse than the memories. That was when I vowed to remember.
But there were so many, too many, their faces fuzzy. So I decided that by remembering just a few, I could remember them all. And so I remembered Henry Gardner, Mr. Edwards, Jimmy, Charlie and Bill. And I remembered Thomas; I remembered Thomas best of all. I still don’t know why.
So I remember, because if I forget, they may join the ranks of the forgotten and unknown. I cannot abandon them to that.
I think of all this tonight as I stare at the ceiling. And then it occurs to me, an idea, a legacy I could leave. The bed groans as I sit up, and I groan with it. I fumble in the darkness and attempt to light the kerosene lamp. I try to be quiet, have no desire to wake the children, nor Anna or her husband. With brittle bones I set myself up at my desk, clear away the colorful paintings, the memoirs of a four year old. Today I will leave my own memoir. My hand trembles with age as I date the paper, April 13, 1925. So long ago, just over sixty four years.
A knock sounded at the door, I write. And remember. I could hear Mrs. Reynolds…