When I was about five or six years old, my grandfather and I were driving out to one of the family farms…him at the wheel and me standing on the pickup seat next to him, so I could see what he could see. (This was, of course, at a time in history when seatbelts were annoying straps everyone tucked out of the way).
That day, as we passed the Weatherford cemetery on our way out of town, he smiled and waved and cheerily shouted “Hi, dead people!”
Then he turned to me and said, still smiling, “someday, you can wave and say ‘hi’ to your granny and I right there in that cemetery. You won’t see it, but we’ll be waving back.”
He didn’t seem a bit bothered by that notion, but I was very upset at the thought of the two people I loved most – laying underground in satin-lined coffins – waving at me as if it were no big thing.
I think he realized his words didn’t have the same humorous effect on me as they did for him, so he reassured me it would be a long time before that day came. He told me he wasn’t worried about it, and I shouldn’t worry about it either.
About 20 years later, as I watched my grandfather’s casket being lowered into the ground at that very cemetery, the memory of that day and his words “it will be a long time” came back. I remember whispering to him, “still too soon”.
But he was right. About 20 years after he was laid to rest (and about 10 years after my grandmother joined him), sure enough, I moved back to my home town and I would drive past the cemetery from time to time. And every time I drove by I would wave and say “Hi Grandad! Hi Granny!”. Sometimes I would stop to have a chat, or just sit and reminisce.
I always wondered if he was right when he said they would be waving back.
And that’s how I got into the habit of waving and greeting dead people while driving past cemeteries. Sometimes if I’m in the car with a new friend, they’ll be a little startled and stare at me as if I’ve grown two heads. Or they’ll laugh and ask me what the hell I’m doing. I’ll have to explain how and why the whole thing started, and how I figure, even though no one in any of the cemeteries knows me personally, a cheery greeting never hurt anyone, dead or alive. I know their souls are someplace else…but I don’t know that their souls can’t hear me. You just never know what’s going on over there.
Since I’ve moved, however, greeting the dead has become an entirely different thing.
My new town has an inordinate amount of cemeteries. Seriously, every time I need to run errands around town, I find myself shouting greetings about every other mile or so. I’ve said “hi, dead people!” more times in the last few months than I’ve said in the last decade, I think.
And yes, that probably makes me a little bit crazy, but it’s something I picked up from my grandfather (who was a very wise, compassionate and sane man…with a wickedly morbid sense of humor).
And I am, after all, very much my grandfather’s granddaughter.