From the writing room.
“Christ Is Risen. Alleluia.” Easter. What does it mean to you? To me it has become personal.
Mother always honored her parents by placing beautiful flowers on their grave at Easter. I have chosen to do the same. Mother loved Easter. On Thursday I drove to my hometown, Winston-Salem, NC to put flowers on the graves of mother, my “Dad,” my maternal grandmother, mother’s little sister that died at birth, and the maternal grandfather that I never knew. He died when Mother was eight, but she spoke of him often enough for me to know that like many little girls, she worshiped her tall, handsome dad, Lewie T. Burke.
As I child, I woke up each Easter morning to a beautiful basket filled with Easter candies. On Easter Sunday we attended church in our new Easter outfits. As I think back, those new outfits may have been symbolic of a new beginning in our lives each time we honored the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We celebrated Christ’s birth at Christmas, and His dying for our sins at Easter. The older that I get the more I realize how sad it is that both holidays have become more about retail sales than paying tribute to the Savior of our souls. I am pretty sure that if more people lived by the Ten Commandments there would be more love and tolerance in this country.
In 2016 while unpacking books that we had moved into our new home, I found Mother’s family bible that held a picture of Jesus, and an Easter bookmark. The Bible was among the books I moved from her home. Once again, I was reminded of Mother’s love for Easter. She understood what Easter was all about.
This year, after purchasing flowers, I went to the New Philadelphia Moravian Church graveyard. Yes, we Moravians still call it a graveyard, not a “cemetery.” Every Moravian graveyard is called “God’s Acre.” In a Moravian graveyard, all tomb stones are the same size and color, and all are lay flat on the ground. A sidewalk runs through the middle of each graveyard, separating the mens’ graves from the women’s. We used to joke that our Moravian forefathers wanted both the men and women to truly “rest in peace” after death. In each graveyard there is also a place for children, and their tomb stones are of equal size, but smaller than adult stones.
This year I drove to Winston alone. While I missed Nana’s companionship on the drive, it also gave me to time to revisit many memories of Easters past. The hardest time was at the graveyard. As I cleaned the stones and secured the flower vases the way Mother taught me, all I could think about was how much I missed her and my “Dad.” Some would call him my stepfather, but he was so much more than that. He and Mother had been high school sweethearts until WWII separated them. Each married someone else and each marriage failed. And then came the day they ran into each other and learned they were both going through a divorce. I was invited on their first “date,” and about every other date until they married, October 4, 1960. He raised me like a son. He took me hunting and fishing. He taught me there were no rules in a street fight. In our discussion of the “birds and bees” he made one thing very clear – if he ever heard of me lying to a young woman to “have my way” with her, I would answer to him.
My “dad” called me Junior more than he called me by name. There was never a doubt that he loved Mother and me unconditionally. In their forty-three years of marriage, he never once raised his voice to Mother or me. He was so respectful of others that you wanted to respect and please him. He loved us with all of his heart and the feeling was mutual. I have often said he was the closest thing to a real, live John Wayne type hero that you would ever meet.
His death in 2003 was sudden and unexpected. As I cleaned his stone, I relived never getting to tell him how much I loved him one last time. I never got to say goodbye. He introduced me to boating. He bought my first pair of water skis and taught me how to use them. Two weeks before our son was born, he pulled Carolyn on skis. When her doctor found out what she had done, he asked if she knew what could have happened if she had fallen. She replied that she knew she wasn’t going to fall because her father-in-law was driving the boat. Her words spoke volumes of the trust we all had in him. When our children were young they climbed up into his lap. Our son asked, “Bop, why don’t you love us?” He replied, “Bo, you know I love you.” Our son replied, “If you really loved us you would quit smoking so you could live to see us grow up.” A man who had grown up on a farm and smoked his whole life, never lit another cigarette. That day he quit smoking – “cold turkey” – for the love of his grandchildren. He was that kind of man.
I stood and stared at Mother’s stone before cleaning it. The inscription of her and dad’s stone reads the same, “THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE.” Mother was a beautiful woman with an equally beautiful heart. For her entire life, she lived that inscription. Her last three words to me were, “I love you.” For the next two years until her death, she never spoke another word. Dementia is a horrible disease that does not always move quickly. During the years that she was a single mom, she somehow always provided and never complained. In her later years we teased her about always worrying, but in my youth when things were at their worst, she was always strong for me. As I cleaned her stone and the memories spun through my mind, I wondered if she knew how much I loved and appreciated every single sacrifice she had made.
This Easter, I finally realized what putting flowers on her parent’s grave meant to Mother. It is a small sacrifice compared to those our parents make for us over their lifetime. I’m hoping my mom and dad were together in an embrace, looking down and reading my thoughts during my time at the graveyard. If so, they know how much I love and miss them.
If your mom and dad, grandparents, siblings or other loved ones are living, call them today. Tell them how much you love them. On their behalf, go back and read the Ten Commandments. Our country needs the honesty, love and tolerance the Commandments teach.