On Monday we drove the hour out to St. Francis, to visit the cemetery where my grandparents are buried and to look at my father's memorial tree not far from there. I came with eight palm-sized stones, which I placed on the headstones beneath their names; four each. Next time I'll bring more.
It's just the second trip. I didn't know where the cremains of Giselle and Henry (Gisela und Heinrich) had been placed until late this past winter, when I finally phoned my father's former wife to demand that information from her. In the same conversation, she informed me that she and their children had decided (after the funeral) to interr my father's cremains on the farm -- which she has since sold. She intentionally kept this from me until after the sale. She says it was his wish to "die there and be buried there, on that land;" which may well be true. But in truth, she kept him and their family away from me as much as she could, when he was alive; and now he's gone, she has placed him at remove for all time.
She didn't tell the buyers about the cremains. She and my half-siblings agreed among themselves to leave the ashes where they were, but she simply informed the new owners of the land that a tree had been planted in my father's memory, and she asked if they would allow it to stand. Knowing this, I wrote a carefully worded letter to the new owners asking if they would allow me on the property for a few minutes on Memorial Day; but they never responded, and I'm left wondering why. Did my former stepmother call them and ask them not to? She claimed not to remember their names when I spoke with her. Or was it just too strange a request for them to process?
There's a field next to that property which isn't part of the farm; the memorial tree stands just a few feet from the property line. I could have walked into the field and stood there, legally. And would have, had they not been out in their yard, staring at the car. But I did not know what I might be getting into, and wasn't in the mood for a confrontation, so I took a few pictures from the roadside and then we left.
It was good to visit the cemetery again. I'm glad I was able to get the information, which until now hasn't been forthcoming, about where my father's parents were buried. The graves haven't been tended, apart from general mowing by the caretakers, and were plainly purchased one at a time, on the cheap. Giselle and Henry died five years apart; they are in adjacent rows, one behind the other and slightly to the south. Between them stands a large spruce tree, planted by the owners of a nearby plot, and it's impossible to see both stones at the same time. But I cleaned off the pine needles and dirt; and it's fine, I suppose. They weren't all that close in life, either, not that it matters now. Doubtless my father would not have cared much to be buried by their sides -- it was always a difficult relationship.
His former wife remarried, two years after he died, and the farm was sold last year. She and her new man have built a house in Howard Lake.
The thing is, it was never me she hated, it was my mother. I was a kid, age nine, the year my father took me to live with them in what was supposed to be a temporary custody arrangement. After a very very difficult year, a long story in itself, I begged my mother to take me back home and she did it without question. My mother's husband adopted me, and from that time I was forbidden to set foot on the farm in St. Francis. I saw their three children and my stepbrother (hers from her previous marriage) just once when they were young. After that, only the funerals brought us together. His wife seemed to relent a little just ten years ago, and met me with my father once or twice for lunch. But I was never part of the family; and that included being part of the grieving. It was my mother, and my father's love for my mother, that was the indirect cause of all that went on in the terrible year and afterward. Ironically, my mother is the reason I did not carry through with my plans for an organized memorial at the cemetery this year. She refuses to attend. She won't say why, really. Though it seems to have something to do, again, with love.
It's a love that destroyed as much as it created, or more. I've always believed love is a good thing in and of itself; even when it causes us to turn so far inward that we use it as an excuse for wrongdoing. I wonder if he ever put it behind him, his relationship with my mom. Or if she alone has held onto that part of him, just as I clung to the edges of whatever I could steal as years went by. Sounds terribly tragic, but life is full of that. Love is still good.