Having arrived in Bessemer, Alabama, my husband, John, and I followed a map…turning west at the Angwin Mortuary. Ahead of us was the Caretaker’s office. We stepped through the doorway. The man behind the desk was heavy set, with absolutely no chin. His big folds of skin went from cheek to shoulder. No neck.
“May I help you?” he asked.
“I’m looking for my father’s grave. My instructions say Lot 31, Block 24. The stone says Vail on one side and Oldham on the other.”
Without checking any records, he said, “Oh, that’s easy. Go past that first intersection and park by the very next tree. The first name is Cain and then the next one is what you are looking for.”
As I climbed from the car, I noticed a metal plaque on the ground that said “24”. My heart came up to my throat.
There in front of me was a tall stone that said “VAIL”.
My eyes hurriedly scanned the flat stones on the ground until they found what they were seeking.
“G. VIRGIL VAIL – Born July 25, 1891 – Died December 6, 1942”. Seeing the date of his death was what did it. One day after my birth. 60 years later I stood at my father’s grave and my emotions took my breath away.
Thoughts collided in my head. How would my life have been different? Why hadn’t mother ever talked to me about him?
He had never seen me…and I had never touched anything that belonged to him. I had seen few pictures and wouldn’t recognize him if I met him on the street. There had never been a connection. I hadn’t celebrated my birthday, just the anniversary of his death.
I had never heard his voice…never called anyone “daddy”. It had never really bothered me. I couldn’t miss what I never had. But now it did.
I knelt down and touched the stone, and the dam broke. With John’s arms around me, I grieved for what had never been.
“G. Virgil Vail”. Who was that? What had he wanted for me?
Time stood still as the birds sang and my mind bounced from thought to thought. Why hadn’t mother kept this man alive for me?
When I said I hadn’t realized visiting his grave would affect me this way, John just patted me and said he knew it would.
Then he suggested, “Why don’t you leave something of yours here. Something precious to you. Dig down and put it under the stone.”
Once again my mind whirled. What could I leave here?
Another piece of my mind was saying, “You don’t even believe in going to graves. You and John are going to be cremated. The spirits aren’t in the body after death. Where is all this coming from?”
I didn’t know and it didn’t matter.
What could I leave?
Then I knew. I went to the car and took out my business card holder. I removed one card. I had never handed anyone one of these cards. They were new and had been obtained free over the internet. I had designed it in shades of blue…..with a mountain on it.
“Life Choices” and my name, address, phone number, email address. Under my name it said “Speaker” – “Writer”. Under “Life Choices” were the words “Necessary Journeys”. This was part of my visualization for me. John had never seen it.
I handed it to him and said, “This is what I want to leave. It tells him who I am…how I turned out.”
With another hug and pat, John said, “You need to do this by yourself. Go tell him who you are.”
Once again I knelt at the stone. My mother was never proud of me. Would my father have been?
And so I told him about my life and who I was. I forgave him for deserting me. I dug down at the edge of the stone and stuck my business card down in the slot I had made. The edge of it still stuck up above the ground. I pulled it back out, folded it in half and placed it back in the slot. Patting the earth back against the stone, the card was not visible. It would disintegrate and be there forever with my “dad”.
I felt connected at last.
As I stood up, I could almost hear the door slamming shut on the unfinished business. My dad and I had had our talk and I could get on with my life.
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