Gwen Manfrin
2011 ImagesPostcards (book)Floral

I buried my father in a quickly chosen plot, an offhand choice of casket, in the cemetary closest to my house. My mother’s mind has holes in it, she has no idea where her husband is. No one will visit him, but me. I go up to see him (odd choice of words), to plant “forget me nots,” which quickly dry in the hot east bay hills. One day, I momentarily could not find his grave, it looked different. Someone had placed flowers in the vase attached to the headstone. Plastic flowers. Every grave had dusty faded plastic flowers, mournfully, artificially, perky. I hate plastic flowers. I looked around me, there was a multitude of brightly colored tributes, in addition to the “flowers.” Flags, pinwheels, statues, plastic toys, baseball bats; garish things that meant something to the living that they thought meant something to the dead. I took a trip to another cemetary. This one had a large sign with rules and regulations regarding “gravesite adornment.” No flags or pinwheels here. But, in their place, an odd assortment of gifts, simple and poignant. Private tokens that spoke quietly to no one, but held meaning, nevertheless. Some older graves had fallen into disrepair. No gifts for them, but also, no grass; headstones broken and thrown about, as if the spirits inside grew restless with their inactivity and churned up their earth. What happened to these families? I asked around. Many people I talked to did not know where their ancestors were buried, as closely related as grandparents. No one to bring plastic flowers, even if they could. This seemed even more curious, as I come across whole hills devoted to one family. The patriarch’s monument, huge and phallic planted at the apex. Around him, those he married, bred, bullied and apparently kept in good stead. What happens to the black sheep in these families? Do they get a place of honor at the “master’s” feet, or are they unceremoniously planted down the hill with “the others”? What if, heaven forbid, they don’t want a marble gravestone like their siblings, don’t want to worship at the altar, but would rather be cast upon the oceans. Do they become erased from the family tree due to lack of headstone?
Odd, practice, this burial tradition. Families gather at open holes, looking down at wet earth teaming with crawling things, that prefer the dark. “ We’re going to put Dad in where?” Kids run around, preferring not to think about that, just enjoying a day off from school. What a picture perfect day, just like a postcard.” He would have loved it here. Shhhh, you’re loud enough to wake the dead. Come say goodbye. To who? Drop in some dirt, help cover him up. There, that life is done, throw in some plastic flowers.”