My mother died in 1979, on her sixty-ninth birthday. She had been visiting her twin sister in the hometown I share with the two of them, Beaumont, Texas.
From her birth in 1910 until my grandfather’s early death in 1937, my mother and her sister were prominent members of Beaumont society as the daughters of the doctor (Guy Howard Reed, my grandfather) who attended to the richer families in town. I visited Beaumont many times when I was growing up, and the dubious values of social prominence and keeping up appearances were drummed into me by my mother’s mother (the doctor’s widow).
The poem that follows was written shortly after returning to Beaumont for my mother’s funeral and burial near her parents. It had been fifteen years since I had been to my home town, and I surprised myself by being depressed by how small the attendance at her funeral was and how shabby the graveyard looked. I guess I had expected my grandparents to keep up appearances, even after death.
So many pretty places to put a grave -
Nestled among the virile pines,
Or grandly surveying the sleepy river,
Not in this lifeless place,
With its dried-out grass and air of neglect.
A graveyard should be a lively place,
Somewhere to pretend the dead still live,
Somewhere the dead would want to live.
And the people who come to stare somberly
At the fresh-dug hole
Should look just as they did
When she was young and full of hope.
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