The city cemetery on the corner of 90th South and 7th East is not exactly a serene resting spot. It is bordered by a 7-Eleven and a Domino's Pizza and two steady streams of noisy traffic. A Liberty Tax Service is not more than a hundred yards down the street, where, from January 1st to April 14th, a woman dressed in a Statue of Liberty costume stands outside the storefront, dealing passing motorists a double whammie. No, nothing in life is certain, except death and taxes.
Normally when we pass the cemetery my daughter points and exclaims, "That's where Frankenweenie's buried!" But today she is fast asleep, worn out from an afternoon at the children's museum. Even without her prompting, I notice the cemetery today. It is dotted with color - dozens and dozens of brightly wrapped mums decorating the lowly headstones. Despite its unfortunate location, the cemetery is suddenly bright and beautiful with the sentiment of remembrance.
At home I don gardening gloves and kneel at the flower bed in front of the garage. I dig a shallow hole and plant a fledgling Clematis into the earth, wrapping strands of the tender vine around a trellis. My paternal grandmother had a Clematis against the south side of her red brick house. I remember as a child being astonished at the creeping, climbing plant and its delicate flowers that looked like purple stars.
In the middle of the night, I am awakened by memories, memories vivid and textured. The thick, serrated red brick of my paternal grandparents' home. The sycamore in their front yard, with its shaggy, crumbling bark that we would peel away, revealing a smooth, dappled green. The bumpy ceiling in the front room that seemed to sparkle and reminded me of stalactite. The oval portrait hanging next to the front door, cloudy and in muted tones, of Mary Ione, my grandmother's mother.
Mary Ione died from influenza when Anna, my grandmother, was just a baby. When I was a child, each Memorial Day we joined my grandmother on a pilgrimage of sorts to visit her mother's grave. We piled into station wagons and pick-up trucks and drove south on I-15, the Wasatch Front to our left, the Oquirrh Mountains to our right. It was as if we were cradled in the palm of the Rock of Ages himself. We drove into the land we had claimed, past sagebrush and farmland, past towns named after our Book of Mormon prophets: Lehi, Nephi, Moroni. We would reach the little plot of earth where my grandmother's mother lay, my grandmother arranging us cousins around the humble headstone like flowers.
In the middle of the night, I am awakened by regret, regret tender and forgiving, but painful still. I regret that I always viewed my grandmother as Grandma and nothing more - as a woman who was soft and pillowy and doled out cookies and smiles. I regret that I never asked my grandmother what it was like to grow up without her mother, that I never asked her what it was like to raise ten children in a home with only two bathrooms, that I never asked what interests she had beyond her church and family. I regret that I never wondered if she ever visited her mother's grave in Moroni alone, and rested her smooth cheek against the cool gravestone, and whispered her hopes and heartache to the woman she loved but never knew.
In the middle of the night, I am comforted by the thought of the Clematis growing in my garden, its roots extending into the earth, grounding my memory of her.