In the company of the dead

<  In the company of the dead

I took Lucy for our usual Saturday walk at the local cemetery in my small village.

We don’t have a park so the cemetery fills that void in many ways, much like cemeteries like Highgate in London did in the Victorian era.

Even if we had a park, I’d probably through inclinations walk her at the cemetery.

It’s lichen covered tombstones and towering oak and cypress trees surrounded by bucolic fields make it rather pleasant place to walk on the gravel paths.

I once read that people should make major decisions in their life at a cemetery because it helps to focus on what is important. I do not know if that is true or not. I tend to do a lot of my thinking on my walks though.

It’s an old cemetery with grave markers going back more than 150 years and it’s still being used. My wife’s brother is buried here as are her grandparents from both sides of her family. My neighbor from across the road, a teenage girl killed by a burglar, is buried there. It is impossible to walk by her grave and not remember the beautiful young girl waiting for the school bus at the end of the driveway. There’s several graves of young children covered with stuffed animals and Barbie dolls, and decorated with occasional party balloons. It is not a lonely cemetery by any reckoning.

I was making my way around when I came upon Scott, a next door neighbor. Scott is in his 30s. Scott attended a special education program until the funds were cut then he got a job bagging groceries and pushing shopping carts at one supermarket until it closed then he got a job at another supermarket. Scott walks a lot around the village, which considering our lack of sidewalks and the speeding traffic isn’t the safest thing to do. Scott has a compulsion that requires him to walk a lot. He walks back and forth at times in his yard until the grass is worn bare and then his grandmother talks him into walking in another part of the yard.

“Hi Scott,” I said as I approached. Lucy ran up to him and leaned into Scott. Scott is one of her favorite people.

“Hello, {Carnacki},” he said. “Did you know John Wayne is dead? He made some good movies.”

We’ve been neighbors for nearly a dozen years now and at least once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less depending upon my schedule, I’ll have the exact same conversation with Scott as I always. He has the same conversation with my wife.

“That’s right,” I said. “Lung cancer, I think.”

I always mean to look up details about John Wayne’s death to add to the conversation. I never remember to do that.

Scott then lists his favorite John Wayne movies and I list mine. His are El Dorado, the Shootist, True Grit, Rooster Cogburn and the War Wagon with Kirk Douglas. Mine are Stage Coach and The Quiet Man.
 
I asked him to walk with us. He finished John Wayne and moved on to Elvis’ death as he always does and how visitors to Graceland cannot see the bathroom where Elvis died on the tour. Then he moves on to Elvis’ movies.

If conversations go on long enough, he always follows Elvis with Hank Williams’ death followed by bus drivers of his who have died.

I’m not sure why the conversations are always the same with him. After first meeting him, I tried to talk about other things, but it seemed to make him uncomfortable. So for a while, years ago, I stopped talking to him, instead just giving him a friendly wave whenever we crossed paths. But soon we began talking again and now I find there’s something strangely comforting in always having the same conversation with someone. You never have to think of something to talk about and you know what the other person is going to say and what you’ll say in response. It’s companionable if predictable.

Sometimes the dead have nothing new to add to our conversations even though they’re in company with us.

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One Response to “In the company of the dead”

Jeff in Alabama

thank you for this story. It is moving.

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