The flotsam and jetsom of life wash ashore and sometimes compel us to act upon them, even 30 years later. Last week I ordered a stone for the foot of my mother’s grave — something my sister and I have talked about doing for years. I had a strong aversion, an avoidance of cemeteries, for many years and it took me more than a dozen years to visit my parents’ graves. And when I did, I stood there stunned to see that the woman in the grave next to my dad’s, the Martha we knew, had a headstone with the surname of her second husband. They were married for 8 years. She and my dad had 35 years together before he died. My sister and I vowed that we would make this right some day. Neither of us wanted to broach the subject with the second husband with whom we had no more contact than a card or phone call at Christmas. Our relationship had always been strained. I think we were waiting for his death. Unfortunately, my sister died first, and after her death my brother-in-law reminded that Sharon and I had vowed we’d have that stone in place before summer came again.
That bit of story has provoked a number of people to tell me that I must write this story. Personal essay. Short story, fiction. No, I said, this is barely an anecdote. It has a beginning and an ending and I do not want to re-open the baggage packed into the middle. But I have written snippet of it in this short piece, “Poste Restante”, published in Freefall Volume XXI Number 2 Fall 2011. Thanks again, Freefall.
Salzburg Oct. 19, 1977
At a sidewalk café, butterscotch light spilling across cobblestones, me with coffee and strudel, you with pretzels and a mug of dark beer, we open mail from home. A whiff of my mother’s hand lotion rises from the page.
Hope you kids are having a grand time. Remember to look up those names I gave you, I’m sure my cousin Ilsa is still alive even though nobody’s heard from her in years. And that little restaurant Daddy and I found in Frieberg in 1963. The man’s name was Otto. He’ll remember us because his wife had a sister over here and living in Red Deer no less.
Now my news. Henry and I are buying a house. We’ll get married eventually, but for now I think it’s best if we just live together. Your sister’s not talking to me. When did you say you were coming home?
My nieces have decorated my sister’s letter with rainbows and hearts.
I wish we could afford to take three months like you, but with the kids, a week in the tent trailer at Sylvan Lake is all I can count on. Mom doesn’t have time to babysit these days. She’s living with Henry. Not even two years since Dad died.
The pages of the letters crackle as I fold them into the envelope.
“Anything new at home?” you ask.
“Nope.” I fork up a bite of strudel. “Where’s out next poste restante?”
A month away.