Cogitations from a cemetery

Published 9:16 am Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Column: Tales From Exit 22

I was vacuuming the sprinkles off a doughnut.

Dieting is hard.

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“Really? You’re going to wear that shirt?” My wife likes me to wear something that matches her purse in case I need to hold it.

“It’s my favorite shirt,” I replied. It had some mileage on it.

“It’s too bad it’s not made in your size. It has food stains all over it. It looks like a buffet,” spoke management.

“That’s why it’s my favorite,” I said.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve asked you to get rid of that shirt,” my wife added, refusing to let it go.

“You should keep better records,” I said, putting an end to the discussion. I chortled inwardly with the knowledge that I’d saved “You aren’t the boss of me” for another day.

Not long after that, my wife and I visited a couple of cemeteries — St. Olaf and St. Peter’s.

I wore a different shirt — a clean one.

I drove there with the car windows down on a sweltering day. I listened to a show about gardening on the radio with both the volume and the bass cranked high.

My wife and I weren’t there because we had a coupon. We were at a cemetery to water the plants adorning the graves of loved ones.

A cemetery is a peaceful place, safer than home. Many people are injured in their homes, but not many at cemeteries. A cemetery is a great place to try to recall what I was worrying about a year ago.

As we strolled about the cemetery after completing our watering tasks, we stopped to pay our respects at the graves of those we knew and those we didn’t. Some had lived to a grand old age, but most died too young. Not all were carried gently to their resting places. Most of the deceased didn’t eat enough beets, spinach or other things they didn’t like. I was looking for an epitaph reading, “It’s probably just a cold,” when my wife pointed to a tombstone and said, “Do not get me a monument like that one.”

I hadn’t thought about buying her a grave marker.

I hadn’t thought about many things. That was just one of them. When my wife, The Queen B, asks me, “What are you thinking about?” and I answer, “Nothing,” she believes me.

I knew why my wife didn’t want one like it. The gravestone was covered with bird poop. Birds found it a comforting place to relieve themselves or it scared the crap out of them. It wasn’t the gravesite of a fellow named John Privy, so perhaps it was the color of the stone, its size or its location that attracted them.

Several days before, I’d visited Red Oak and Danish Baptist cemeteries wherein nest boxes dangled above graves. Wrens used the boxes and the tombstones remained dropping-free. Funeral homes may already be offering wren houses in their plans.

I was surprised by my wife’s comment about buying her that gravestone. Like most husbands, I figure I’ll be the first to shuffle off this mortal coil.

It’s not a pleasant thought, but quietus is like the objects in the mirror that are closer than they appear. Life’s odometer turns quickly. Everyone has an expiration date and getting old begins at a young age.

I talked to a friend who lives in a retirement community. He’s a widower and loves his new home. He’s popular for two reasons — there aren’t many men there and he has a car. He wants no monument. He’s going to be cremated and have his ashes scattered on his favorite recliner. His motto is, “We go around only once. Get in all the naps you can.” Why do husbands typically die before their wives? Husbands are often older and women live longer. I put no stock in the cynical belief espoused by some men who say, “Because he wants to be first.”

A man doesn’t think of his body as a temple. He thinks of it as a garage to park everything in. Warren Zevon sang, “Enjoy every sandwich.” I might as well — it will show on my shirt. A man knows that if he eats nothing but natural foods, he will die of natural causes.

Men do dumb things because that’s what we think about doing on those rare occasions when we think about doing something. No woman’s epitaph will ever read, “Hey, guys, watch this.”

If she goes first, my wife’s epitaph will read, “No pooping on the gravestone!”

She’ll strive to outlive me.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.