When my children and I drove to Florida for their Spring Break, we talked, as the miles rolled beneath us, about seeing their grandmother, and their grandmother’s dog Buddy—a dog who is beloved to Magdalena and Teo, who has been beloved to M & T since they were toddlers. (Buddy earned an acknowledgement in my novel Dream Journal. He is a life force, that little dog.) Buddy has big eyes, dark eyes, though one has turned milky blue with a disease that afflicts chihuahuas, mostly, which is what Buddy is. I grew up with a chihuahua as a next door neighbor, and the memory of him barking shrilly at me through the metal diamonds of our chain link fence is not a pleasant one. Those pointy teeth. But Buddy is nothing if not pleasant, for the joy he brought my father and step-mother, for the joy he brings my kids. Buddy never bites.
I didn’t set out trying to write about Buddy. I set out writing about the plans we concocted in the car, in between CDs of the audio book edition of Agatha Christie‘s And Then There Were None, aka Ten Little Indians. The book was first published in England as Ten Little Niggers. It pains me to write this. But there it is. Apparently, that was the original title of the British nursery rhyme which plays such an important part throughout the course of the mystery. The rhyme’s title was subsequently changed to substitute Indians, which is its own kettle of smelly and oppressive fish. Let’s stick with And Then There Were None, shall we?)
At any rate, in between CDs we spoke of sun, sand, pool, beach, possible amusement park, the Blue Man Group. We thought of Grandma’s cooking, the violets and Christmas cactuses my father loved, the alligators and snapping turtles that lounge and bask in the little pond behind the house, and that occasionally get bopped by golf balls. The oranges that drop from the trees and bob on the murky water. The calls of mockingbirds and spring green frogs.
When Teo was sleeping, or perhaps playing his DS, Magdalena and I discussed going to her grandfather’s grave. My father’s grave. We’d never seen it; we both wanted to. My father was laid to rest (a phrase I’ve never actually written before, but which I realize, as I write it, that I love) in the Florida National Cemetery, a VA cemetery, and on the day he was buried, the expanse of land in which he was laid to rest was torn up by diggers, the red earth as raw and exposed as an open heart, as my heart on the hot, late August day.
We asked to see this resting place on that day though the administrators expressed reservation. The shock of that torn up land, in contrast to the serene and orderly rows of white graves—probably this is what gave them pause. It gave me pause, truth be told. But driving to the site, we carried the flag, folded into a triangle, the bullet shells fired at the end of the service tucked deep inside. And two faun sprang across the road in front of us, and we loved that because my father, M & T’s grandfather would have loved that too, and that made the drive to that torn up land more than worth it.
So we got there, this Spring Break. There was a pool, sun, Buddy, alligators, Grandma’s cooking, and especially Grandma. There wasn’t sand. There wasn’t a theme park. There was the Blue Man Group, though. And there was a drive to Bushnell and the Florida National Cemetery.
It took us a while to find the grave. The place is beautiful, roads winding among trees and over low hills, the sun flashing out, the white graves shining. I thought I would mind that they all look the same, but I didn’t. I found great satisfaction in what seemed to me to be a rare convergence of dignity and humility. And then we found my father’s grave, Magdalena leading the way, striding purposefully between the rows, searching out the correct number and his name, and there was a small, white stone lying just beside it in the ground, like something washed up by the ocean, though the ocean is miles and miles away. We set that stone in front of the gravestone, and that was a good thing to do. That was sufficient.
We took pictures. It seemed another good thing to do. Here are a couple.