|Carolyn Clay Mercer
Carolyn Clay Mercer
Among Carolyn's last wishes was a request that her ashes be divided into quarters and dispersed at appropriate points North, East, South, and West. Other than the practicality of it, I'm not sure why I drew the South assignment. For reasons mentioned below, Henderson, Kentucky, seemed to be the appropriate southern point. Jan and I had decided that a small amount of my allotment should be placed in the creek bed behind our house (from our very southern vantage point Kentucky just didn't look South enough). Carolyn, the hydrologist, was mightily interested in our creek (really just a wash) and was amused at the expensive and ultimately futile attempts of our downstream neighbors to redirect its flow. Thus, we sprinkled a couple of small handfuls of the ashes in the creek bed. The remainder we put in a second Ziploc bag, placed the Ziploc in a flat turquoise Tiffany box, and tied it up with the traditional white ribbon.
Our parents were born and raised in and around Henderson, Kentucky; and, when they died we returned their ashes to their childhood home. Carolyn had wanted to plant a tree or trees at the Fernwood Cemetery there near the spot where Mom and Dad are buried. At Dad's interment in 1990 we all noticed the stump of a large tree which had apparently been felled by lightning, leaving a big unshaded space. After Mom died in 1997, Carolyn took charge of organizing her interment and spent a little time soaking up Henderson and introducing herself to those few of our parents' friends who were still living and still resident in that quiet town on the Ohio River. I don't need to tell you that she fell in love with Henderson (I'm not sure she ever visited a place she didn't love), and she became determined to fill the unshaded space as a memorial to Mom and Dad. What she didn't know then was that she wouldn't have time to do it. Thus, I enlisted brother John to join me on a trip to Henderson on June 1 to combine in some fashion the dispersal of the quarter of Carolyn's earthly remains entrusted to me with the fulfillment of her tree wish. I packed the elegant Tiffany box in my suitcase and headed for Kentucky.
In Henderson John and I met with the very accommodating and friendly Fernwood Cemetery folks who had ordered the tree at our request. It was to be planted in a little grassy triangle resulting from the convergence of three meandering cemetery roads not 100 feet from where the ashes of our parents are buried. It had been the site of the large tree mentioned earlier, but the stump had since been removed. One George Day (whose father was a contemporary of Dad's and knew many of Dad's friends, all long gone), owner of Day's Nursery brought out a 12-foot red oak in his truck and proceeded to dig the hole. While he was working and sweating in the humidity under a partly cloudy, hazy Kentucky summer sky, I untied the ribbon and took the Ziploc from the Tiffany box, went to Mom's and Dad's stone, and deposited a small handful of Carolyn on the grave site. It took George a while to do his part, because he was busy alternately digging and demonstrating his conversational skills, which were considerable. When the hole was completed, I emptied the Ziploc by handfuls into the hole, Carolyn's almost-white powdery ashes in stark contrast to the rich brown soil. Doing this almost made me smile, fully confident that I was doing the right thing. Carolyn would be very pleased to provide the initial sustenance to the Memorial Tree. When George finally said his goodbyes with a promise to update us on the tree's progress, John and I remained at the site. We read the 23rd Psalm in unison (more or less); John read Frost's 'Spring Pools;' and I read Yeats' 'When You are Old and Gray.' We fumbled around for a few appropriate words about our well-loved sister, and then we departed.
Shortly after we left the cemetery the humidity devaporated, and the heavens opened. The downpour washed the small handful of ashes on Mom's and Dad's graves into the soil, uniting Carolyn once more with her parents and giving their tree an early boost.
On the drive back to the motel John and I (emphasis on I) decided that we needed to carve this event in stone (although both of us were sure that, at best, Carolyn would only very reluctantly approve). Perhaps we succumbed to a need to indulge our personal and selfish wishes to hold on to her in some fashion, to keep her from disappearing entirely. To this end we paid a visit to Henry & Henry Monuments. John and I had wrestled with the inscription but had agreed on one, which we changed once again during our visit. A small, flat, rectangular piece of polished granite will be placed next to Mom's and Dad's stone. It will read:
Well, today was the day. It would have been Kittie's 83rd birthday, and it was a day after Mac's 98th. Tom, Jan, and Ben were hereabouts, so by pre-design Florence, Martha, and I met them at the Chalet Susse at 8:00 a.m. The day was windy and overcast, perfect for getting into Parker River Wildlife Sanctuary without a crowd. So we proceeded in Tom's big rental Mercury Marquis and went all the way south on the island out of the sanctuary and into State land at Sandy Point. Only two other cars were there, and when we got on the beach, we could see only one fisherman, off to the south, so we proceeded southwest to the water, about a quarter mile away from the angler.
Tom and I went out into the mid-to-low tide water, out onto a shelf. The others stayed ashore and watched.
There was a good rip coming in from the ocean. We went out into the choppy surf to about waist deep, and I opened up the zip lock. Small handful by small handful, we let her off into a wind blowing hard at us from the south to southeast. The smoky ash skittered immediately over the water, then dropped into it, making a dusty smudge just below the surface, then disappearing as if never there. After we both let off five handfuls or so, we were done, and I rinsed out the bag.
Both Tom and I said the words "Sea Queen" several times during the releasing, a name given her by Heb Evans more than 40 years ago, and I thought that this particular hydrologist had been well served--at least by plunging into a beaver pond in Vermont, into the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, into the Pacific at Gaviota State Beach just south of Point Concepcion, and into a Texas creek bed; by traveling along the Ohio River in Kentucky; and now getting into her beloved Atlantic, the big water. And she had been served by those who love her without reservation.
When we were done, Tom and I went swimming, and Martha joined us. The water was nonfrigid, though the air was windy and cool. We frolicked for a while and then came out.
I took a little walk and looked around, trying to remember the spot, the time, the look of the day. The sky had some bright spots, but was basically pewter, as was the sea, implacable and unfriendly pewter. Out where the Parker River and the Atlantic met, there was a considerable chop of perhaps six to ten feet. Later we heard the day had been decorated with small-craft warnings.
And I thought, "Well, she's gone. Take care of her, whoever you are that takes care, whether you are the implacable sky or the ceaseless ocean or our memories or a loving God in Heaven."
Take care of her.