Looking for Mrs. Webb

Winter light is melancholy, even in California. But the fifty-four degree weather still invites me out for a morning walk, and I accept. I walk down our street, which dead-ends at the cemetery. (I remember how to spell cemetery because it has only Es for earth. I won't comment about the dead-ending.) My friend Mrs. Webb is buried there. She was my neighbor down the street, and my daughter and I used to visit her every week when she was alive, less so after she was buried in 1996. A few years ago I thought I would go look for her grave again, which I did, but I didn't find it. I remember she said she had her husband buried under a tree, so I kept looking for that tree.

Today (it's Monday when I write this), I think I will go look again. It's garbage day in El Cerrito. Something extra is out by the curb. I used to have one of these as a child.

Someone has created a cautionary sculpture out of a tripping hazard.

It seems odd to have a cemetery so close to cities and freeways; you would think it would be small, but it isn't. It's quite a large park, if you look at it as a park. This one is on a hill with eucalyptus and other trees that are home to a wild variety of birds, including the usual crows and ravens, finches, and sparrows. I once saw flocks of robins here. From the top of the hill you can see the bay. And you can see Brooks Island, the Craneway Pavilion, and even the whirley crane where the Ospreys nest (in between the trees, but too far to see in the picture).

The air is chilly and breezy. It is not entirely quiet. Gardeners in protective suits are out waving leaf blowers and weed wackers.

I wonder why we bury people in lines, since in life we have to stand in them so often.

After walking around a bit and not finding Mrs. Webb, I go back down to the main entrance. There's a fountain gushing in front of a circular driveway. I open the big glass doors and enter a vaguely cavernous room with a single desk. A woman is seated there, a man talking with her, both employees. It could have been a movie set, but I realize this is where the mourners gather. I say I'm looking for a grave. The man says to come with him, and he leads me around the corner and to the back where the offices are, where most of the people work. The woman there looks up Mrs. Webb and comes back with a map, the name of the lawn, the row and number. Like theater tickets. She shows me where to take my car. I thank her and say I'm walking.

I walk around the Heian Garden and loop back. That's right! There was this extra loop. Follow the turkeys. They know the way. No, really. I mean it.

There are no trees on this lawn. I find row 18, that's Chai, life in Hebrew. I put a little stone on her marker. You wonder why films always show people talking to the dead, but I do it, too. And I get a little teary. She's still there, next to her husband. She once told me that they had twin beds, "but the rug was wore out between them."

See you later, Mrs. Webb. I'll remember now, and I'll be back. In the section above hers I note the offerings on the gravestones: water, lemon-lime soda, snacks, three oranges. I wished I believed in the afterlife. I guess the belief also inspires your descendants to visit you and bring you things.

On my way back out I see a slow hearse and two cars following it. Only two cars! Somehow this is sad. I walk by the man I'd seen inside, and I say, "Hi." I hear his reply, colored by the day, "Mourning."

A few blocks from my house, the trash cans are empty, lids hinged open. Thump-thump-thump: the wind blows a beat to the living winter day.


Elaine Gongora said…
Thank you for this lovely post. I felt as though I was walking along with you. It's nice to go away and come back again.
Alisa said…
Thanks for coming along, Elaine! Nice to know I have company.