She rests on a stone chair. Her face is tinged with moss. The hint of a smile curls her lips as she stares into the eyes of a girl. Both carved figures wear long, old-fashioned dresses of gray granite masterfully shaped into drapes and folds. I found the tombstone on a web search and hungered to know more. The grave rests in the heart of Seattle’s oldest boneyard, Lake View Cemetery. The internet told me nothing useful about the grave, no names, no dates, no pin-point location on a map. I would have to search out the answers myself.
After nestling my children into school, I drove across the lake, parked outside the cemetery grounds and walked. Cars whizzed past me on the thin road that ribboned around Lake View Cemetery. Nearly all of the cars were rentals carrying passengers to the graves of Bruce and Jason Lee, tourists eager to lay down a flower and shoot a picture. The Lees attract many, many visitors.
I wandered without direction until a crow caught my attention with his noisy caws. I followed him to the southern edge of the property, the place where our city founders were laid to rest. I studied the graves of these lesser known residents and then walked some more. I wound my way up a central hill and snapped pictures, crude iPictures because I have no skill in photography and no patience for my phone. The pink tip of my pointer finger should be my Facebook profile picture.
As I tiptoed down the shady side of the hill I was careful not to step on anybody. I neared a crowd of people with cameras poised and realized I was nearing the Lee graves. People gathered around the impressive black and red gravestones. They were striking, but I wandered past and the strangers at the famous graves shook their heads in disgust as they dug tokens from their coat pockets to lay on the graves. “It’s okay, I’ve been here before,” I mumbled.
I ambled through a mausoleum and shiny, modern graves until I reached the property’s western border. I waved at a groundskeeper as he sped past in a cart filled with shovels and trimmers. He didn’t seem scary. The crow flew back up the hill and disappeared into the branches of a high tree and I followed from the road.
Beneath the tree rested the founder of Nordstrom department store, John Nordstrom. I said hello. I thanked him for being so nice to me when I was a young, co-ed at the U. His kindness made a lasting impression on me during those long Saturday afternoons I spent on my feet serving important people in the VIP booth at football games. My feet ached at the memory. I curved behind Mr. Nordstrom’s grave and there it was – the seated woman I had been looking for just feet away.
The grave was so tall it reached the branches of a looming honey locust tree and was even more powerful in person. I was no closer to understanding what the sculpture meant, but I had found it and that was something.
I circled to the front and read the name, “Wilson” beneath a large plaque. There was no date, but from the flowing dresses on the figures, I guessed the grave was a century old or older. In the plaque, the same seated woman offered a horse a handful of oats. Around her other animals; chickens, a dog, a cow, sheep, and possibly a turkey, waited to be noticed by Mrs. Wilson. I was intrigued.
I turned my attention back to the statue on top. I was eager to study the young girl’s face in hopes it would reveal some secret meaning to me. Was the girl that Mrs. Wilson smiled at a younger version of herself? Was the older Wilson smiling as she told the child she would live a life well-spent? I pinched and prodded my phone into focusing on the face of the girl and gasped at what the screen captured. Age and erosion wore away the girl’s facial features. But erosion had worked to etch other features more deeply than the artist intended. The girl’s frozen face bore deep-set eyes under arching, angry brows. Her nose was gone, but her tiny, fragile hands were still exquisite and held onto what appeared to me to be a bonnet. Haunting.
What would I tell a younger version of myself? Would I warn her not to make the same mistakes I did? No, I learned too much from those mistakes. Would I tell her of things that would work to undo me? No, she would think we were too weak to walk through them. Would I show her how we learned patience over the course of twenty years? No. She might lose faith and never try. Would I whisper to her that love comes when we stop looking? No. She would be more vigilant than ever.
No, I would say nothing. Like Mrs. Wilson, I would stare at the younger version of myself and smile. If the girl bothered to study my aged face she might note the wrinkles at the corner of my eyes, etched from laughing often, she could count the crescent shaped marks at the sides of my lips which marked the deep hurts I had suffered, but most of all, she would see me before her, a survivor, a lover of life and animals and plants and art and people and she could guess her life would be a wonderful journey.
I wandered back to the entrance gates and shuddered. No, I wouldn’t like to be buried under a fancy sculpture. I want something much simpler than that.
I found my burial place more than a year ago. After losing two family members in five years, two relatives that gave not even the slightest suggestion of how they wished to be laid to rest and honored, I vowed I would make a plan as a gift to my husband and children. In the days after the deaths, I watched grieving family members scrape together bits of conversation, hints and suggestions until they resembled a plan. But they really had no idea if their choices were good ones. I wouldn’t cause that kind of pain and confusion. Besides, I always have an opinion on things, why should my burial plans be any different?
Not meaning to be eco – or green – or pc in any way, I stumbled upon a cemetery in the Methow Valley that is simple and to me, wonderful. They lay you to rest in the earth shrouded in simple white muslin cloth. If you pay extra you can be buried in a thin, wooden box. But the idea is that you become part of the living earth again and soon. Come spring, the cemetery is a carpet of blooms. I don’t think there are headstones of any sort to mark the bones buried there, and that is fine because the truth is we don’t know how to mark the place where a soul rests.