“And in the end…the love you take
is equal to the love you make” [Beatles on mental radio]
Monday October 12th was a day of high cloud near Santa Cruz in the morning, just a bit chill. The cemetery in Soquel is small and a beautiful place, with spreading California live oak trees. seven women of a certain age and a stripling lad (son to two) gathered. Names were exchanged among those who had never met before, then we centered ourselves to sing. Sage was burned as is the way of the first people of this continent, a candle lit by Joe’s picture – the one with her in the park ranger shirt, as we heard how happy she was to find that shirt in a small second hand store, as she’d always wanted to be a ranger when she grew up…Joe’s picture was nestled next to a large old oak tree still laden with leafy green, leaning at about a 40 degree angle off the ground, the trunk held up by a stout wooden support.
We sang for a little while, then it was time, to meet a down-to-earth woman named Ellen who had brought the former fleshly housing of our beloved Joe…flowers, letters, good-byes & little drawings were inscribed on the paperboard box, which looked sturdy enough. (We had been warned that delicate noses might detect evidence of the lack of any unnatural chemical embalming, but neither mine nor that of my travel-mate, nonsmokers both, noticed any such thing.) And then we sang, a few short pieces that Joe knew too:
“…All that dies shall be reborn…”
and then one I learned from a beloved elder years ago, herself gone now
“Gone / Gone / Gone beyond / Gone beyond beyond / Hail the goer!”
Our brief time of close up leavetaking was complete. We withdrew to an adjoining room. Shortly a gentleman from the same place Ellen works for opened a shutter that swung down, opening the view through a window about 6 feet wide & almost 4 feet tall. No mechanized conveyor belt at this small facility, the height of the table was adjusted up manually rather like an old-fashioned hospital bed, and they carefully slid the box through the opening and latched it.
We started to sing again as he set some controls, and sang for several minutes, some sobbing at times. It grew very warm (even though all connecting doors were closed) and we opened the doors to the outside, welcome fresh air.
We sat and started to share, how had we met Joe, were there questions about her later life some of us could shed light on…but many of the most vivid things were about times long ago, like in Joe’s brief college days in Massachusetts. Some songs that Joe loved to sing were sung:
Where The Soul Never Dies
Housewife’s Lament (more pithy than the title)
I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday
(There are some other songs that Joe loved to sing, like the Elizabethan song Pastance With Good Company – by King Henry VIII no less – and the old traditional The Keeper, but there just weren’t enough hours to sing everything possible – mostlywe were talking, reminiscing for a couple hours, and then it was time to get something warm to drink, at the Ugly Mug there in Soquel, where Joe had a cup of…joe on September 30th, last time she went out.)
It was done well. Still so sad. I know a number of us were really feeling the pain, and the rest are probably mostly just perhaps a bit better at maintaining. But a fitting celebration of a necessary passage.
Now to prepare the larger gathering, close in to the city Joe roamed most the last two decades. Strength to the endeavor.
<late wednesday night the 14th>