Aunt Mary died right before Thanksgiving in 2005 in a small town in west Georgia. Her funeral was held over the holiday weekend because everyone was available. Like most of rural America, if you are to be cremated, your body is sent to a larger town, and ashes are returned later in a white box containing a plastic bag. Her ashes came back long after we were all home. She was to be buried with her parents, husband and two sisters the next time we all got together, which was the following October at the family reunion. Something came up that year, then two years turned into five, turned into twelve. She sat on top of the TV cabinet in her brother’s house for almost 14 years.
Aunt Mary was my Mama’s oldest sister that I knew. Aunt Louise had died before I was born, and two older cousins carried her name (plus one younger). I am the only one named for Mary, a situation that caused me no small amount of anguish as a child, because Mary was “different”. “Simple” is a word people have used to describe her.
You might think her whole name was “Mary bless her heart”, because you rarely heard anyone talk about her without adding that last part, not in a bad way. In a family of great southern cooks, Mary could make a mean ham and mayonnaise sandwich. According to the younger men who helped with her yard work, she boiled a really good hot dog too. She could also make carrot/raisin salad for gatherings – the recipe for which is: shredded carrots, raisins, and mayonnaise. But she was good at that.
She always gave you a gift if you visited and you took it graciously. Since they never had money, it was always without cash value, but full of love.
She hung dozens of those unsolicited AOL disks from strings to catch the sunshine, because they made pretty rainbows on the wall. She plugged lamps into all outlets in her house to keep electricity from leaking out, until I brought her packages of outlet covers designed to keep that from happening (or so I told her). God will forgive me for that.
As Mama’s cancer sapped her strength, we took a final trip to the family reunion. On the drive home, she asked me if I would do one last thing. Would I get Mary buried, and get a grave marker? I promised that I would.
When my work contract ended last June, and I found myself with time on my hands, I went to Georgia with the intention of digging a hole in the city cemetery and placing Mary there.
Aunt Joyce and I discussed the burial, and I told her about my promise. She said she would arrange the grave opening and we could have a service after the family reunion in October.
For all its fault, the Internet is sometimes a wonder. The grave marker that I purchased online at a steep discount over the rural vendor arrived at Aunt Joyce’s via Fedex. My cousins delivered it to the cemetery. The urn I purchased from Amazon was blue, with intricate silver etchings. It would have made great rainbows on Aunt Mary’s wall.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in October 2019, nearly 14 years after she died, a childless woman was laid to rest beside her family, with a crowd of 25 nieces, nephews, a brother and sister-in-law plus a generation not born when she was alive at her graveside. We sang hymns off key, most of us cried. Aunt Joyce prayed. Nieces and nephews told stories. We hugged and some thanked me for taking the initiative – some shoved cash into my hands quietly to pay for the marker.
I felt my mother there, at my shoulder, as real as I felt the sunshine and the grass. I could barely breathe. I cried. I kept my last promise to her.
After we left, Buster – the grave digger called the house, then went to fill in the tiny square hole, and slid the headstone into place over it.
Rest in Peace, Aunt Mary.
© 2019 Susan Bulloch
I write. I fix computers. I feed cats.