Sunlight in an almost cloudless sky burns my uncovered forehead. Infrequent bursts of wind temporarily cool me as I stand in this small, shadeless cemetery. Cotton fields stretch in every direction and I scan the horizon absentmindedly while the funeral party assembles around the open grave where my Uncle Herbert will soon be buried. The Masons take their stations, white half aprons fluttering in the breeze. I watch the Rite with interest, not having seen one since my Uncle James died over a decade ago. The words of that service were spoken by Uncle Herbert, and now he is silent and unmoving, suspended in an expensive box above an expensive hole, as another Mason serves that function.
"So mote it be," the Masons intone. Rarely worn slacks and dresses flap in a gust.
The spoken words remind us all that death approaches. The Rite is melancholic. I much prefer it to the short service held at the funeral home before we drove out here. There, an elderly preacher exhorted us to get right with God. He hardly mentioned my uncle.
Here by the grave, I stand as a stranger among my family. My father and aunt are both close by, one I have spoken to exactly twice in the last year and a half, and the other hardly more than that. I'm not here for them.
So mote it be.
After my parents divorced, I followed my dad back out to the woods. I was adolescent, and loyal to the idea of my father. Once, while visiting Uncle Herbert, his wife bought us two bags of groceries to take home. I felt ashamed. Herbert's family didn't have any of the drama that we fed on in our household. We had cigarettes and anger, lots of anger. They had sweet tea and comfortable chairs. Herbert always sat under the white oak woven baskets he made. They hung from the thick wooden rafters, and dressed in his Liberty overalls, he always had a quick wit and a wry smile.
When I moved out of my father's house I no longer calculated on his side of the child support equation. He didn't have much to do with me after that unless I drove to him. By the time I started college he lived in a small Airstream trailer on the edge of a wildlife reserve. He would come to town occasionally to pick up parts for his compressor or the boat. In the four years I lived there, he never stopped at my place.
Uncle Herbert's family provided some small comfort during that time. His son Ken, the same age as my dad, would invite me down to help with some odd job around the farm or in his blacksmith shop. Not that he needed the help, but I needed the money, and that was reason enough for him to ask. I spent a lot of afternoons listening to the hammer strike hot iron or the skrit skrit of sandpaper on metal while we talked about my classes. Even when I moved away to Virginia, he would call to let me know he would be at a blade show nearby so I could visit. My father never visited me there, either.
So mote it be.
After the funeral I drive back out to their homeplace. Two old cabins sit in the yard beside the brick house. The smaller cabin is the one Uncle Herbert grew up in, moved here to prevent it from burning down in a brushfire once it became empty. The larger log cabin has its two rooms separated by the dog trot and I ask Ken just how old it is. From the 1830s, he says, and I remember camping out in it on hot summer nights when we were kids. We talk land and work. Neighbors and family continuously arrive with food. I tell him about Japan, somewhere he wants to visit, and he laughs at my stories about panty vending machines and traditional toilets. I apologize for not coming around anymore, not wanting to bump into my father. "I don't blame you none," he offers.
The cough and sputter of my father's truck pulls into the driveway. Hidden by one of the bushes, I listen unobserved as he tells my cousin he forgot his phone and has to run back to his apartment. As the truck changes gears driving away I pull out my own car keys and stand up. I'm sad that I have to leave now before he returns, sad that I have to leave at all. Ken understands, I hope, and as I walk away he offers to drive up sometime or meet me halfway. This means a lot to me. It means more than I know how to say.
So mote it be.