I can’t tell you what wild impulse it was that made me ask Keith to turn into the small country cemetery behind the United church in York. We were out for a drive, taking the long way to Port Dover by way of the country roads along the Grand River. This is the area that my mother, uncle and aunt grew up in, and my grandmother before them.
It was a pretty mild day for February, the sun that filtered between the pines was warm. We wandered around the headstones, looking at dates and wondering at the lives. Was it a romantic tale behind the 23-year-old girl who came from Ireland in 1880, only to die a year later? The story is all too clear on some marker; one bore the names of three children, none older than two, and an infant who’s date of death was the same as his 30-year-old-mother.
And there in the newer section in the back is a headstone that bears only the most basic of information. Unlike the other headstones in this section, there are no flowers laid on it, plastic or otherwise. The inscription offers no wishes for a peaceful afterlife, no mention of bereaved children or grandchildren, or of a spouse who will hold him in her memories lovingly and forever. It needs a cleaning; the inscription is filling with dirt and moss and last year’s leaves and lawn cuttings lie dead and brown where they fell. It looks forlorn; no one comes here to tend it.
Why? Because my maternal grandfather was a prick. A racist, bigoted, misogynistic, abusive, selfish, impatient, volatile and perverse prick.
I guess he must have had some good qualities; he had friends after all. Perhaps he was just never meant to be a family man; he did not seem to care much for my grandmother or his children based on what I had heard about him. Oh, yeah, I know the stories. they are not really mine to tell.
I still don’t quite know why I asked Keith to stop. I do know that I won’t again. My mother kept him out of my life for a reason, and I don’t need him as an example of what not to be. My Grandma Rose with her grace, strength and resourcefulness has always been a much better role model.