Although it's Sunday, we're not headed to church. Instead, we're visiting mama at the cemetery. I've been there twice since her passing last year. Both times, I couldn't find her. There was nothing marking her grave. The last time, I walked around for what seemed like hours, trying to find her burial site through tears. Eventually giving up, I left.
The day she was buried is a blur, and I didn't remember just where her plot was exactly. I thought I would remember. Tuesday was the first anniversary of her passing, and Chief thought it would be fitting to mark her grave properly. He and Connie both helped me pick out a nice granite headstone, along with vases, and we're meeting someone at the grave this morning to set it in place and make it real nice.
We pulled up to the cemetery just as the men from the monument company arrived. Chief stepped out of the car to meet them with notes and a plot number of mama's grave. Connie and I waited in the car and made small talk. Mostly she hummed to something I can't catch the tune of, but it's beautiful and puts me at ease. The anxiousness I was experiencing this morning before leaving the house has evaporated. With my eyes closed, listening, the sultry sounds that emanate from Connie's throat, it soothes and calms me like a warm cup of tea.
"The crew is ready. They're familiar with the cemetery and we'll follow them to the plot," Chief's voice brings me out of my fog as he enters the car.
I looked out the window as we drove through Jackson Heights Memorial Gardens. The narrow streets are lined with large oak trees that offer a canopy of shade from the sun. If not for the tombstones and monuments, it would look like just a beautiful garden tucked behind an elaborate stone wall. Mama made all of her arrangements long before her passing, said she wanted to be somewhere nice and beautiful.
As we drove slowly and admired the beauty of the gardens, I smiled thinking about how much mama would like seeing it during late summer, her favorite time of the year.
Stopping behind the small flatbed truck, we get out of the car and remove the rake, shovel, and other tools Chief packed for us to make mama's plot as beautiful as those around her. We stand back so we won't get in the way of the small crane that removes the headstone from the truck. Setting it in place, they signaled and we were welcome to start working. I walked over and inspected the headstone.
"What do you think?" the older gentleman asked.
"It's beautiful," I whispered never taking my eyes off of their handy work.
It was more beautiful than I could have imagined. The inscription reads
Even though death has torn us apart,
your love lives forever inside of my heart. - C.A. Martine.
Sadie R. Quinn
Nov. 8, 1977 - August 26, 2019
"Thanks for meeting us on a Sunday," Chief shook their hands and gave them a tip.
"Our pleasure. If you need anything else just give us a call," the younger, much taller man responded.
To go with the headstone, I ordered an arrangement with coral-colored flowers, mama's favorite color, to put in the vases on each side of the headstone. When mama was a teenager she read about a Chinese lantern festival and often talked about the two of us attending one and releasing a lantern of our own. She never made it happen. When I told Connie about the lantern idea, she thought it was a beautiful gesture and I should light at least one each year at the anniversary of her death.
"Let's get to work," Connie announced.
Where the men had disturbed the ground placing the headstone, we fixed the grass around the heavy monument, polished the stone, and placed the flowers. Connie continued to hum that same song as we worked. Every now and then, I caught her watching me like a mama bird. We'd been working for a few hours and we're finally finished. I stepped back and took it all in, imagining mama watching us and smiling.
"It's time to light and release the lantern," I said.
Chief handed me the lantern. I held it in my hands, close my eyes and try to picture mama's face before she became sick. Taking a deep breath, I hold the lantern out for Chief to light it, while Connie finally put words to the song she has been humming.
Some glad morning when this life is o'er I'll fly away To that home on God's celestial shore I'll fly away
I'll fly away, oh glory, I'll fly away When I die, Hallelujah, by and by I'll fly away
The small flame fills the lantern with warm air, and it's finally ready to be launched. With my arms outstretched, I gave it a little push.
"I love you, Mama," I whispered.
We stood there watching the lantern as it rose higher and higher over the trees, to meet the sky and eventually out of our sight. Chief is on my right side, and Connie on my left as she sang...
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by I'll fly away.
"Good morning, Miss Quinn. I was starting to think you were avoiding me," Mr. Easter said as I took the seat in his office. "There is so much to be done, and very little time. So let's get right to it. First things first, what colleges or universities have your interest? What will be your major?"
"To be honest, Mr. Easter, I haven't considered any schools. I don't know what's out there, or even a direction to start regarding a major," I confessed. "The only thing I do know is I'd like to one day own a community grocery store."
"And that's what I'm here for Ruby. It sounds like you may be interested in business, but we can't be sure until you've completed a vocational questionnaire. With the questionnaire, I'd like you to start researching colleges near and far to find out what they offer, and what interest you. Don't be distracted by campus life, every college and university will offer an extracurricular campus life. Be mindful of what they have to offer in terms of courses, new technology, internships, cooperative education experiences, and most importantly, their graduation rates, as well as the percentage of recent graduates working in their desired fields."
"Okay," I exhaled. Mr. Easter has just overwhelmed me with all the necessary information to look for in a prospective school, and I think he read it on my face.
"Not to worry. Everything I just said is in this packet, along with the questionnaire. Go over it with Mrs. Marshall. I'm sure she'll be a great help."
"By the way, next week, while we're out of school for teacher development, we're going on a college tour. We're going to visit three different schools. And in the spring, we'll visit three more. This information will help, thanks."
"Please return the questionnaire before next week, it will help me start a profile on you. Do you have any questions?"
"Yes, I do. How much does college cost?"
"Miss Quinn, with your score, you will probably qualify for scholarships. Have you started receiving letters, from schools yet?"
"I've received a few. How can you be sure I'll qualify for scholarships, and won't have to pay for anything?"
"We'll discuss finances at our next meeting. Let's stay connected and meet again after you've returned from your first college tour. If you need any information or would like me to set up any meetings with schools for you guys, just let me know. I'll be glad to make a few calls. Keep in mind, we need to start sending application by mid-October."
"Thanks, Mr. Easter," I stood and shook his hand. "I'll keep all of this in mind."
After he was so pushy about the gifted and talented program last year, I dreaded meeting with Mr. Easter. Surprisingly, he's being extremely helpful, and strangely nice. Whatever, I'll take it.
"Today was your meeting with Easter Bunny. right?" Treasure always does those crazy air quotes when she talks about Mr. Easter. "I was wondering where you were. I looked all over the school for you this morning. Was he creepy? How did the dinner with Justin's parents go? And your visit to the cemetery?"
"And a good day to you as well," I shook my head. "Let's see. Way better than I expected, decent, and very well."
"Not funny. Now that you've given the short answers, I want details,"
"Okay, already. Mr. Easter was really helpful, and not his usual obnoxious self. He gave me a packet of information, with a questionnaire that will help me narrow down what major will best suit my interest. The rest of the information is a checklist, that will help in determining what college or university will meet my needs. Enlightening. Have you gone to see your counselor to discuss your options?"
"What options? My only option is to enter the workforce after high school. I don't need a questionnaire, or a packet to rate colleges and universities, or to help me make a decision. My aunt said the best way to make the most money is to get on with one of the local plants or factories. It will be long hours, but I can handle it. Being that I'm smart my aunt thinks I'll move up quickly."
"I thought you were at least considering the idea. Yes Treasure, you're really smart. That energy you'll be using to move up quickly, you could use to get through college. My conversation with Mr. Easter has me excited about the possibilities. I know whatever you set your mind to, there is no stopping you."
"And what I've set my mind to is working after high school. I'm not saying college is not in my future, just not right away."
"I understand. You have to do what's best for you."
"Now give me the details of the dinner."
"It was okay. Justin's dad is really funny, a lot like him. We laughed so hard until he snorted. His mom seemed just the opposite. She was quiet and didn't talk too much at all. But, she's a pretty good cook. Dinner was Cornish hen, roasted potatoes, green beans and homemade rolls. Her peach cobbler wasn't as good at Chief's, but it was okay.
Did you know Justin's parents want him to join the family business and be a plumber?"
"Plumbing? I had no idea." Treasure looked confused. "I don't picture Justin as a plumber, making house calls and unstopping stuff. He seems more of a suit and tie kind of guy to me, or khakis and loafers."
"Khakis and loafers, really?"
"Don't laugh. That comes to mind when I think about a professional workplace. Anyway, how was the cemetery?"
"It went well. I was pleased with the headstone. We spruced up mama's plot, placed flowers in her favorite color, and made it pretty. The best part was releasing the Chinese paper sky lantern. It floated away as if it took wings, more beautiful than I imagined. Honestly, I expected to feel bummed about that day. I wasn't overwhelmed, or overly anxious, it was easy pretty much like mama."
Senior pictures came in today. I'm nervous and excited to see them for the very first time. I'm home waiting for Connie, she had to make a stop and will be home soon. Literally, my hands are shaking. Thurkill's would have been the distraction I needed right now, but I'm not on the schedule for today. My journal is calling me.
It's Ruby Quinn,
While everyone stood in line during lunch to get their senior pictures, I avoided all of the hoopla and went on about my day. I picked them up immediately after school. Sharing that moment with random peers is not how I wanted to see them for the very first time. With my classmates' full of excitement, it was so hard to focus the rest of the afternoon. My thoughts kept going back to the same question. Do I look like mama?
The three hours from lunch to the end of sixth-period Computer Application class, seemed to drag on for an entire day.
Ms. Hudson gave me no slack. "What time do you have to be there Miss Quinn?" She drew my attention back to class with her high-pitched voice.
My body was there, but my mind wasn't. I kept imagining Mama's senior picture on her nightstand and wondering what mine would look like next to hers. But I couldn't see it. My mind would not conjure an image. That made me sad.
The bell finally rang, releasing us for the day, and leading me straight to the counselor's office. Luckily, only a few people were waiting, and no one asked to see my pictures. I didn't even peep. I shoved them in my backpack and took off towards the parking lot.
"Are you in a hurry?" Justin asked when I ran into him on the way to my car.
"Yeah, I got this thing. I'll call you later," I told him probably sounding weird, but I didn't want to talk. Not about what was on my mind, school, next week, not anything at all.
So here I sit, with my journal and senior pictures.
"I'm home," Connie comes in with several bags hanging from her arm. "Why are you sitting in the dark all by your lonesome, like you have bad news. What's going on?"
"They came today."
"Who came? Came where?"
"Senior pictures came in today."
"Are you pleased? Where are they?"
"I don't know, I was afraid to look at them by myself. Here they are," I slid the package face down to her.
"Let's see what we have here," Connie pushes the pictures back to me and stands behind me. "Open them already."
Slowly, I opened the package and slid a sheet out of the envelope. Taking a deep breath, I ease it over.
"Look at you Ruby, your pictures are beautiful," Connie gushes. "What do you think? Do you look like your mom's picture?"
"I think so, but it's hard to say for certain without having her picture to compare. It's close enough, I guess." Sitting there staring at my picture, I searched for mama in my eyes, nose, mouth, forehead and chin.
"Does that smile mean you approve?"
"Yes. I can see her in me."
"Great," Connie runs to the closet in the other room. "I have the perfect frame for it."
That closet is like magic. Open the door and it looks like a regular old closet where Connie keeps her candles, and other trinkets. She always comes out with things you didn't know were even there. It has to be a portal to an entire gift shop.
"I found it," Connie hands me a beautiful black picture frame. "It's perfect for your senior picture."
"It's beautiful," I rubbed the frame. "The details are amazing. Where did you find this frame? It has to be super expensive."
"This beautiful frame deserves a picture just as beautiful," She smiled. "When I was still singing and touring, we had a free Sunday in Arizona. Somehow, I found my way to an arts and crafts fair. An older lady had picture frames with unique and hand-carved designs that I could not pass up. I bought a set and had forgotten all about them until now. All these years, it was waiting just for you."