I used to accompany my best friend to our church's cemetery so that her mother could plant flowers on their relatives' graves. I had never been to a cemetery before so I thought it was both eerie and fascinating. While my friend's mother tended to flowers, we would wander off reading headstones. Often we would find the names of classmates' grandparents but one day our hearts suddenly stopped cold. Etched on a large white marble statue of a larger-than-life angel, was my name, Donna Marie. Buried there was a young girl who died at an age just one year older than I. My friend and I stared and blinked at one another and being childish and foolish and prone to imaginings, we wondered if this was an omen. I sensed that whatever had befallen Donna Marie must have been very tragic indeed because her statuary eclipsed all other stones in the cemetery. I was in deep thought and nearly trembling as we drove home that day and both my friend and I turned to watch the large stone become smaller and smaller in the rear window. It was almost as though the angel were nodding goodbye to us with its diminishing height.
That was the last visit to the cemetery that summer but my chum and I devised a fanciful tale in our heads. Perhaps I would die, as Donna Marie did, in my eleventh year, but for me, it would be on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour. We both knew this was just a fairy tale but we made preparations just the same.
As luck would have it, November 11th that year was on a Saturday and my grandmother would be babysitting me. My friend tagged along "just to see" and we spent the night waiting for the appointed hour playing games in the family room. We both tried to be very good, letting one another win at Hearts and Monopoly. My grandmother never knew what was going on. We put on our pajamas and tried ever-so-hard to stay awake until 11:00 pm. But the hour passed with both of us out cold on the sleeper couch from too much popcorn and ice cream and we didn't stir again until 7:00 am. Barely a word was spoken about our delusion but the following spring when we visited the cemetery again, we went straight to Donna Marie's grave.
But now we felt an unexpected tender thread connecting us to the little girl who had an angel standing solemn over her. We began to lay wildflowers and found pinecones for her grave. We marveled at how we didn't recognize the family name and without the internet, we didn't even think about finding out who she was. But we loved her and took care of her and every time we drove by the cemetery, we both looked over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of her receding angel guardian.
I went back there a few years ago and noticed that Donna Marie's mother had joined her and I felt very comforted about that. Recently, thanks to the internet, I posted a query to a group of neighbors and friends who still reside in my hometown. Within a few minutes, Donna Marie's niece responded. "That is my family", she wrote, "She was my father's younger sister and she was hit by a car after picking apples for her horse one day. My grandmother missed her until they day she herself died". I learned a little bit more too. But it doesn't really matter here... Just know that Donna Marie's niece said her grandmother cursed with tears in her eyes the day she noticed vandals had stolen the angel's hands. And she told me that her grandmother would have loved knowing that two little girls thought enough of her daughter to glorify her grave and memory will small childish tokens that were given with only the purest reverence.
And so now...on to other November tales. This year more than ever before, I noticed that my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is being shown the door. With Christmas displays edging out autumnal beauty, it's a case of "Here's your hat - what's your hurry?" Or, as soon as our chairs are pulled up to our bountiful tables, the cornucopia is whisked away and replaced by a Christmas tree before our very eyes.
A friend seemed sad at work the other day and when I asked her why, she blurt out that Christmas is coming at her full force. With a mother-in-law living with her and small children, she already feels the thrust of the Christmas train racing down the track toward her. But it doesn't have to be this way. I've turned off the TV and therefore the endlessly looping jewelry store ads. I also don't listen to commercial radio on the way to work. Soothing CD's accompany my reveries. I will let Christmas in when I am ready. For now, I'm doing November.
As well, it helps to have more moments like the reading mother above. I'm sure she's not thinking about the color of her Christmas wrapping paper and ribbons yet. Let's all take a breather and cherish the precious holiday of gratitude first. I plan on spending it with those who love me, those who know me, those who see me. My lists will get written I'm sure. But not in November. That month is for telling tales of long-gone yet still thought-of little girls, for the soldiers who fought so we could continue to read to our children. And it's for Thanksgiving...the holiday that reminds us how lucky we really are.
PS: Every comment was read and cherished on my previous post. I'm grateful for you all.