I went to my mother’s grave last night, which was fitting, seeing as it was Mother’s Day, but that’s not why I went. I went because she was to be dug up in the morning. All of the graves at the Waldrop Memorial Cemetery, the ones not claimed and reburied elsewhere, that is, were being dug up and taken to the dump. Why? Because of the eminent domain clause that our idiot county government decided to implement. And for what? What was exactly so important that every grave that had been in this cemetery since the First World War had to be moved so the county could use this land? A hospital? An orphanage? Hell, even an oil well would have been more important, but, no, our county government—as corrupt as the day is long—is doing this to have a Quick! Fitness Center built.
Yes, everyone was as outraged as you can expect, but it wasn’t as if the county commission cared or if they did could do anything about it. The county mayor had pretty well established a dictatorship and you either went along . . . or were bulldozed over. If you were on valuable property, that is. Mostly, you were just flat ignored, no matter what the request or complaint. For the next four years, and possibly longer if he corrupts the rest of the commission, the county mayor could do whatever he pleased. And no, not within reason, either.
That’s why our county was home to some of the worst polluters the state had ever seen, some of the most egregious violators of labor law, as well as any other law on the books—and that’s okay seeing as the county mayor’s cousin is the county sheriff; the county mayor’s sister is the district attorney and the county mayor’s best man is the comptroller. Whew! With people like this you don’t need . . .
But, enough of that, we were talking about visiting my momma’s grave on Mother’s Day. I was there to dig up the old girl myself because I couldn’t afford to have it done. And I don’t want my momma’s bones in a dump along with whoever else’s momma or daddy or grandma or Cousin Jed that was left behind due to neglect or financial impotency.
So, I snuck into the cemetery, under the cover of darkness, with my shovel. I wore all the black clothes I owned, which amounted to, oddly enough, the suit I usually wore to funerals. Well, mostly the slacks; I own a few black t-shirts and several pairs of black socks, but my shoes were also funeral ones. I had a few hours before the sun came up and the bulldozers and earth movers arrived. I had backed my daddy’s pickup as close as I could to the grave so getting her casket into it wouldn’t be that hard. Then I commenced shoveling.
After about an hour and a half, I had dug maybe two feet, but only on one end. I still had to dig near the grave marker. After another half-hour, I had that dug, but it was wearing me out. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, if I ever was. Forty-two years old, balding, fat—well, not morbidly obese, but heavier than I was in college—and not a big fan of exercise, unless you call restocking the non-food aisles at Kroger exercise. Which it isn’t. And digging? Not something I did very much of and never liked doing to begin with, but when you’ve got no choice . . .
See, I wasn’t really doing this for me or for my momma, because, let’s face it, she didn’t give a shit about where her remains ended up. My momma was a dyed-in-the-wool Atheist and would’ve found what I was doing that night the height of absurdity. She believed when you’re dead, that’s it, game over, and whatever happens after didn’t mean doodly-squat. So, she wouldn’t have cared what happened to her body, had no interest in it is what I’m getting at.
My daddy, on the other hand, did give a good goddamn what happened to her body—for a good, but backsliding Christian, that was exactly the way he expressed his sentiment on the matter—and there was no way in hell they were going to dig her up with a goddamn bulldozer and dump her in a compost heap. Not that I think that was their intention, but it was what Daddy believed would happen. Now, why wasn’t he with me, shovel in hand, to assist or direct, as the case may be? Because the poor man was in an assisted living facility and they already thought he was crazy and he couldn’t walk two steps, besides. So, it was up to me. Soft, pudgy and out-of-breath me sitting on the side of the grave, leaning on a shovel, wishing I had a nice, cold Co-cola.
I must have dozed off because the next thing I heard was the sound of the adult Tonka trucks rumbling their way toward me. Shit! I scrambled up from my seat and looked to where the sound was coming. It was dawn and in the not-far-enough distance I saw the earth mover doing its thing, as well as two men striding toward me. At times like this, decisions had to be made. One could easily retreat—throw the shovel in the bed and get the hell out of Dodge in my Ford—or one could stay and take a stand.
I did not regret my decision. What the old man didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him and it would be just a little white lie anyway. Hell, I went down there and shoveled, which was what was asked of me, and couldn’t help that the job was bigger than either daddy or I thought it would be. Well, he might have thought it would be a big job, but I sure as hell didn’t. Or I would’ve hot-wired one of them Tonkas to do the work for me, if I only knew how to hot-wire something, that is.
“Yes, I would like the number three, scrambled, please, and some more coffee, thanks.”
William Householder is a native East Tennessean, former professional storyteller, current librarian and avid book buyer. Two of his favorite Southern writers are Donald Barthleme and Padgett Powell.