This is an excerpt from a book titled If By Chance that I have never published. It is one of my sister’s favorites and mine as well. I don’t know why I don’t publish it, but I just haven’t.
Fate is one of those weird, inexplicable things we spend way too much time trying to make sense of…
It is Christmas day, 2008, and my mom and I are over at my Aunt Delia’s. We’ve opened our gifts, and stuffed ourselves with a breakfast prepared for us by my Uncle Kendrick. Although he works as a butcher, my Uncle Kendrick is a frustrated chef who can never prepare less than six things at a time, and because everything is delicious, we can’t help but eat it. We are lying around the family room, too full to move, when suddenly, my uncle announces that he thinks we should go place fresh flowers on my grandmother’s grave. We all stare at him blankly. “Fresh” would be the operative word here.
My grandmother died when I was six, and I am now sixteen. I have only been to her gravesite once, when I was seven, and as far as I know, no one has been back since. It’s not as though my grandmother wasn’t loved, because she was. I have heard stories about her hundreds of times over the years, from both my mom and Delia. I have my own memories of baking cookies together and of her taking me to the carousel in Griffith Park. We just live by the theory that she is in our hearts and not the ground.
My Aunt Delia and Uncle Kendrick met in high school, and although they are only in their late thirties, they have been married for twenty years. My grandma was like a second mother to Kenny. His mother had been dealing with cancer for years, but at that time she was doing well. His sudden desire to check in with my grandmother makes no sense to us, but we agree just the same. We can all see that for whatever the reason, he is serious about this, and besides, it gives us an excuse to avoid having to clean the kitchen. Not only can my Uncle Kenny never cook less than six things at once, but he can’t do so without destroying the kitchen.
It is a rare day in L.A., in that it is cloudy and devoid of any sun. As we drive towards the cemetery, the skies open up and it starts to rain. I love the rain, admittedly because it’s not something I have to deal with very often. I’m sure that if I lived in Seattle, or even back east, I’d shoot myself, but while my mom and aunt complain, I secretly applaud the rain’s arrival. My Uncle Kenny curses the inability of anyone in L.A. to drive the second the streets get wet. Sure enough, just as we turn into the cemetery, someone cuts us off.
“That’s right asshole, hurry up,” my uncle yells. “Your dead relatives might not wait for you.”
We all laugh. Then we drive around trying to remember where my grandmother is buried.
“It was on a hill,” my mom says.
“Oh, okay, Krissy,” my uncle laughs, “that really narrows it down.”
“Towards the bottom though,” Delia says. “We couldn’t afford the top, remember?”
“You mean that cheap bastard wouldn’t pay for it,” my mom says, referring to their stepfather of ten years.
Thankfully, I hardly remember him at all, but from what I’ve heard, my grandmother’s second husband was even worse than her first, and apparently that’s saying something. The only thing I know about my biological grandfather is that he left my grandmother for her cousin three months before my mom was born. Delia and my mom have never had any contact with him.
“I think it’s that one over there,” Delia says, pointing to little more than a mound.
“That’s your hill?” I laugh.
“I told you he was cheap,” my mom defends.
“Yeah, but how much more could the top have cost?” I wonder aloud.
“This is Los Angeles real estate,” Delia says, “you’d be surprised.”
My uncle parks along the side of this slope, opens his door, and gathers the yellow roses we have stopped to buy on our way here. I was surprised that anyplace was open, and granted they are just from the supermarket, but still.
“Kenny, wait,” my Aunt says, pulling on his arm, “you’ll get all wet.”
Having stated the obvious, my mom and I both laugh.
“Do you think?” my mom asks.
My uncle ignores us, and gets out of the car. He starts reading all of the markers of the people whose families couldn’t afford to buy headstones, or like my mom’s stepfather, were just too cheap to do so.
“Oh crap,” my aunt says, “we’re probably supposed to join him. You know Mom is looking down on us, shaking her head.”
“You girls,” my mom says in imitation of my grandmother, “what are you doing leaving him out there to do this on his own?”
We get out of the car, and my mom, who is wearing her new boots that she all but forced me to buy her for Christmas, curses the fact that they are now getting wet., By this time my uncle is half way up this supposed hill, and says he can’t find her.
“Yoo-hoo, Mom,” Delia calls.
My mom starts laughing so hard that soon we are in near hysterics. Well, everyone except my Uncle Kendrick. He looks at us as though we are idiots who don’t know how to behave in a cemetery. His impatience makes us laugh that much harder, and he walks back towards the car in disgust. That he is taking this seriously is so far beyond our understanding, that we now have tears steaming down our faces. We are doubled over as we desperately try to pull ourselves together.
“We have to stop before he leaves without us,” Delia laughs.
“Why does he care so much?” I ask
“Oh God, who knows? Because he’s weird,” Delia says, drying her eyes.
“Okay, come on now,” my mom insists, doing the same, “clearly this is the wrong hill.”
We look around at all the other mounds of grass that make up this well maintained Hollywood graveyard, each one looking the same as the next.
“Oh, for crying out loud, Mom,” Delia says, “give us a clue.”
Just like that, the sun suddenly cuts through the clouds two slopes over.
“Alrighty then,” both my mom and Delia laugh.
“Kenny,” Delia calls, “I think it’s over there.”
We all start towards the hill bathed in the only ray of sunlight to break through all day. This area has several groups of people paying their respects to loved ones and my uncle suggests, under his breath, that we should try to show a little more restraint.
“Jesus, Kenny, what is with you? Lighten up, it’s Christmas,” my aunt says.
“I’m just saying,” he defends.
“So we’ve heard,” she says.
“Yeah, Kenny,” my mom teases, pushing him.
We all look around, and after a minute or two my uncle calls,
We head over and stare down at the little plaque that simply reads “Dianne Jackson, beloved wife and mother, 1943 – 1998”.
My mom looks up at my uncle and asks, “Now what?”
He squats down and lays the flowers across the marker, and doesn’t immediately stand back up.
“Having a little trouble getting back up there, Ken?” my aunt laughs, setting both my mom and I off again.
He shakes his head.
“Sorry Dianne, I tried,” he says.
He stands up and tells us we should say a prayer, and walks back to the car. We look at one another, and all burst out laughing again. I don’t know why it strikes us as so funny, but it does.
The rain picks up and we run for the car. My mom is both laughing, and sliding in her new boots, until she crashes into a group of people heading up the hill as we are heading down. Too hysterical to stop, Delia and I get to the car before we look back. What we see is my mother laughing with this guy whose longish dark hair is curling over the collar of his expensive looking black trench coat. He is in tight black pants tucked into his black boots that somehow scream “Rock Star!”
“Who is that?” Delia asks.
“How should I know?” I answer.
“Is he famous?” she asks.
As I am about to say he’s probably just a wannabe, I notice the limousine parked at the bottom of the hill.