The watershed park remained the only remembrance of the native tribe that populated the territory for thousands of years. It was the sort of land where you would find arrowheads in the mud while hiking; the bones of rotted coyotes and the cracked shells of turtles eroded into the silt that pulped the rocky surface of the valley. From within the watershed you could watch a satellite arc its course all the way to Arizona, that black landscape of night sky permitting a starless glimpse at the curve of the earth. Abandoned campgrounds appeared through the woods looking like they had been run through by bandits: thrashed remnants of barbeques, tin supper pans, dozens of littered red cups sticky from beer. As a child, I walked through these toxic marshes every summer at Tom Sawyer Camp. We rode old, deaf horses and donkeys along the ridges of cliffs, marveling at the watermarks that snaked across the limestone like age rings on oak stumps. I followed a single file line of children crouching into a concrete sewage tunnel. The pinprick of light we crawled towards at the tunnel’s other end gave way to a completely imperceptible darkness, as if that bit of light had been a shared delusion. The dot of light reappeared seemingly by its own will, coming and going, a small light like the green flicker of a planet spotted by the naked eye. We crouched smaller and smaller into the tunnel, walking on an inch of water. The taste of stone on our breath in the dark.
Crape Myrtle Graveyard
Crape Myrtle Graveyard
My grandfather is buried underneath a wilting wreath of camellias in a plot near the center of a cemetery by our house. We buried him during a rainstorm, one of those concentrated downpours that come during the winter, breaking a whole year of drought. The priest sang the prayers in English and Greek, folding his leather prayer book against the tough shafts of rain, eventually ditching the book entirely to recite the rest from memory. His umbrella buckled and warped in the wind. After he finished praying, he said, “It feels like Harry just checked me. I played some basketball, I know about a good box-out.”
Yesterday, Avra and I went to the circuit breaker box in the backyard to try switching on the bedroom lights in Yia Yia’s room. The room went black during the storm. Papou’s careful cursive denoted each switch’s corresponding light. They were written with different pens and pencils on separate strips of masking tape. He had marked them as he discovered what rooms they related to. With each blackout, a new search for the right breaker. I kept turning the switch for their bedroom but it wouldn’t stick. Mom and Yia Yia yelped whenever the light came on in the room. The box started to sizzle. We gave up and went back inside.
We all saw Papou’s body in his casket. When we arrived at St. Anthony’s, the white hearse was waiting in the parking lot, and they wheeled Papou’s casket out as we exited our cars. He was positioned horizontally in front of the altar, the top half of the casket flipped open, and I saw his head from the doors of the church, a straight distance that felt mythic. I lit a candle and kissed the framed image of baby Jesus. It was the first time we had been inside St. Anthony’s, the local Greek Orthodox Church. Father Peter, from Charlottesville, Virginia, performed the service. Maybe in a week or two, I’ll write more about seeing Papou’s body. All I’ll say now is that it helped me, and the rest of the family, a great deal to see him one more time. Yia Yia kissed her hand four times and touched his lips, forehead, and both cheeks. I cried when she said, “I will always love you, Harry. I always will.”