After my father died I knew that we’d need to think about a headstone, but was too busy dealing with insurance stuff as well as my own grieving process to want to handle it right away. I sort of thought it would be good to have a headstone installed for his birthday and then maybe go back to Elgin around that time to see it with my family but that day came and went with no headstone or plan to order one.
Finally, my mom and brother started the process by visiting a few headstone vendors in the Elgin area. They settled on the vendor they liked and chose a size and color they liked for the headstone. When I was back in Elgin at the end of August last year, Mom wanted me to go with her to see the one she and my brother picked out. I was completely up for it because the headstone place was across the street from Elgin’s coolest cemetery.
Mom showed me the stone they’d chosen and we began the ordering process. All went smoothly until we were asked to choose a design. I assumed that there were a set number of designs and we would choose one of them but the salesperson said we could have whatever we wanted for a design. It was a lot to think about so we went home and talked about it.
We thought about what was important to Dad. We thought perhaps sheaves of wheat to symbolize his life as a child growing up on a farm. We thought about an anchor to symbolize his time in the U.S. Navy. We thought about crosses because he was brought up a Christian. We were solemn because this was a solemn task.
To break the solemnity I laughed and wondered aloud what about bluebirds? Mom shook her head. Not bluebirds. No, people are going to see this. It is in a cemetery. I assured her I was only joking, but my husband thought it was a good idea and so did my ex-sister-in-law. Later when I asked my brother about the idea, he liked the bluebirds. We still had to convince Mom. We assured her that no one would understand the bluebirds except his close family. We threw in an anchor and ribbon for good measure. She finally said she was okay with it.
After several back and forth emails with the headstone company they sent me a draft of the design. Above his name and birth and death dates was a ribbon being held by two flying birds. In the middle of the ribbon hung an anchor. It was perfect. Everyone agreed. We told the headstone folks to go ahead and use that design.
My brother visited the grave recently and uploaded a photograph of the headstone to Facebook. Here is a copy.
And in case you are wondering, why bluebirds? — shh, don’t tell mom I told you that he, like Jack Nicholson inThe Last Detail, had a pair of them them tattooed on his chest. (And he was proud of them).
Many thanks to Elgin Granite Works for the fantastic job they did on the headstone, for making sure the Military plaque on the back was put in place properly and for keeping me updated on the process.
When we moved into our home nearly 20 years ago we were pleased to have a number of trees on our property. We had a ginkgo, two maple trees (one sugar and one red), a tulip tree and a mulberry — probably male because it doesn’t bear fruit. We also had a small tree in the front yard that the local master gardener said was an unusual tree for this area. He later told me it was an Oxydendrum or Sourwood (which happens to be my favorite kind of honey).
One more tree grew in our yard — it was in the back next to the fence and could have been easily cut down with a hacksaw when we moved in. It was so small that baby Andrew’s head nearly covers it in the photo on the right. (click on the photo to make it larger)
The tree grew quickly and before long it was big enough for the kids to climb, which they did. They climbed much higher than they should have, but thankfully, neither of my children fell out of the tree.
A few years ago with help from my Peterson’s guide to trees of North America and the Internet, I identified the tree as an Ulmus pumila or Siberian Elm. I’m pretty sure it was not planted by the previous owners, but was a volunteer tree.
The tree towers over the house now — nearly catching up to the tulip poplar in height. It casts a shadow over the back yard and nothing but weeds grow under it.
Now that the kids are away at college and have not climbed the tree in years and we’ve gotten rid of both the playset and trampoline, Dean wants to grow grass instead of weeds in the backyard. And I’d like to try to grow vegetables. We’ve got someone cutting it down right now, and to say I feel guilty is an understatement. I look out the window at the sugar maple and imagine it is quaking in fear that it will be next. I also sense a bit of resentment that we are murdering a backyard companion.
We’ll see if the loss of this tree brings more life to the back yard. I kind of doubt it, but I hope so. Then the tree may not have died in vain.