When I was a little kid, I used to play in the church cemetery.  It was a very old cemetery with graves dating back well into the 1700’s.  There were two brothers who were caretakers for the cemetery – both farmers from the area who did the work part time.  They dug the graves, and mowed, and kept the place looking nice.  The church was on the historic registry, and a lot of very influential people attended.

One of the brothers, a man named Elmer, was a very simple man.  Always wore overalls and had a big wad of Levi Garrett chewing tobacco bulging in this jaw.  But he was warm and kind.  He use to talk to me when I would run and play among the grave stones. He taught me how to spit sunflower seeds, a very important thing for a boy of my ilk to know.  He had a quick wit and an infectious laugh.  I don’t remember now what we talked about or even very many of his words, but I remember the way he made me feel as a small boy – good.  He always had time for me.

And I remember an incident that has helped me to put many, many things into perspective in my life.  There was an older woman in the church whose name escapes me now.  You know the way your face contorts when you suck on a lemon…that sour, puckered look?  Well, this woman had that all the time.  She was avoided by everyone with any sense at all, and I don’t remember a kind, or positive, or gentle word ever coming out of her mouth.  Her voice was shrill and accusatory.  When she walked, she walked with a driven sense about her, as if she was pursuing someone. It always seemed as if there should have been some dark organ music playing everywhere she went.  This woman was in charge of something having to do with the historic registry of the church.  One day, as I climbed over the ivy-covered brick wall of the cemetery, I found myself accidentally leaping into her path.  Thinking myself undone, I think I kind of cowered like a baby rabbit that knows he’s about to be devoured – I was only about four or five.  She was walking with that determined walk and that sour look on her face, but as she got to me her beady eyes were sharply focused on some unfortunate object behind me,  and she simply said, “Out of my way, boy! I have business to attend to.”

Feeling a tremendous sense of relief, as if my life had just been handed back to me, I ducked behind an ancient headstone and watched the woman make a bee-line straight for Elmer, who was filling in a grave a few yards away from me from a funeral earlier in the day.  As she walked up to Elmer, she said, “I’ll have a few words with you RIGHT NOW, sir!”  All I could think was, “Oh man, I’m glad it’s not me.”

Elmer very patiently stopped shoveling, pushed the end of his shovel into the pile of dirt next to the grave he was filling, and leaned on it.  His eyes were as calm as could be, and he stood there while this woman literally screamed at him.  I don’t remember what she was screaming about, but she was screaming so vehemently and so close to Elmer’s face, that he had to reach into the back pocket of his overalls for a hanky to wipe the spit off of his face.  This old woman must have gone on for five full minutes, and Elmer never raised an eyebrow.  After what seemed like the longest rant I had ever heard, the old woman stormed off towards the church pastor’s office leaving Elmer and me alone in the cemetery.  The only words Elmer said to her came as she was walking away, when he respectfully said, “Have a blessed day, ma’am.”

Once I was sure she was gone, I came out of my hiding place and walked over to Elmer who was still leaning on his shovel, lost in thought.  I said to him, “Elmer, why do you let that mean old lady talk to you like that?  I can’t believe you didn’t get mad at her and let her have it back!”  And Elmer, taking a moment to spit a little tobacco on the ground, said, “Well boy, that old lady writes a big check to the church every week, and the church uses that money to do a lot of good in the community.”  Then he stopped for a minute.  He scooped up a shovel full of dirt and continued, “And given as how I’m 45 and she’s ‘bout 95, I figure one of these days I’m gonna be thowin’ dirt in her face.  So I reckon I’ll be gettin’ the last word.” At which time he proceeded to throw the dirt onto the casket down in the grave he’d been working on.  I have never forgotten that lesson, and I have learned a great deal about patience from it.


1 Comment »

  1. Kris Kaneta Said:

    Great imagery and a great story. I only wish I could on occasion demonstrate such restraint. There are few thing worth getting upset over, and petty, small people are not among them.

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