It had been raining for a week and I was feeling so trapped. The two older boys were in school and my four year old and I were looking forward to another afternoon of sitting in the house. I looked out the window and noticed it was just a soft drizzle that was falling. Feeling inspired, I grabbed my digital camera and told him we were going for a drive.
He dug in his heels. “I’ll miss Little Bear!”
I counted the money in my pocket and sighed. “I’ll buy you lunch at McDonald’s.” Ah yes, the mother’s ultimate bribe. Grudgingly he considered it. I upped the ante. “I’ll tape Little Bear, we can watch it when we get home.”
“Okay.” He agreed but I could tell he wasn’t happy. So, I packed him in the car and set off.
First stop, the bank. If possible he managed to increase the pout that he’d started at home. “This isn’t McDonalds!”
“C’mon, we have to stop here first. Can’t go to McDonalds without money.” I smiled at him.
Next stop, the dollar store. He was even less happy. “I thought we were going to McDonald’s?”
I sighed. “I need batteries for my camera. We’ll drive through McD’s after we leave here.”
Check cashed, batteries purchased, we headed to the car, drove through McDonald’s and then headed to the highway. In the summer we’d driven north of the city along the river and looked at the big homes and gorgeous trees. I kept meaning to get back that way and take pictures, but I kept putting it off.
We opened the windows a bit, not minding the gentle rain on our faces, and turned up the radio. It was peaceful, driving in the country, silent together, listening to music. At the old stone church, I pulled into the parking lot and shut off the car. The silence was almost eerie. The churchyard, empty but for the gravestones, didn’t help.
I replaced the batteries in my camera with one of the sets I’d bought at the dollar store and snapped a picture of my son. We got out of the car and started walking through the graveyard.
He quickly let go of my hand and raced ahead to gather leaves and look at rocks. I took a picture of the church and my camera’s new batteries promptly died. I changed them for the other new set and managed two more shots before those ones died as well. Grumbling, I put the camera back in its case and looked around. I saw my boy; carefree and as any healthy preschooler ought to be, skipping between the stones, fallen leaves in his hand.
Seeing the next gravestone, my heart stopped. I traced the numbers on it with my finger 1848-1852. The wind whipped my hair around my face, hiding my tears of – I don’t know, gratitude that my own child was safe? Sorrow for the mother of the child buried in the grave in front of me? I couldn’t help myself and called out his name. He turned briefly and smiled at me, and went back to looking at the cracks in the old stone wall. I caught my breath as he traced numbers on the tombstones with his little fingers; almost an imitation of me; and I said a silent prayer of thanks for his future.
This afternoon’s trip inspired me to write a poem. I wrote a long narrative style poem and ended up workshopping it in a creative writing course. The end result is my final edited poem:
A week of rain has me feeling trapped so,
I pack the camera and you,
a small boy not quite five,
into the car, despite your protests,
setting off out of the city.
The rain mists windshield and the wipers beat
a metronome for the quiet song on the radio.
You press your forehead to the cold window
and watch the river. The silence at the old stone
church is eerie. We pause at the gates,
holding hands, then start to walk the graveyard.
You explore, and I read the tombstones aloud.
I let you wander ahead, listening to the inner voice
that keeps me from over-protecting until
my heart stops at a headstone
and I call your name. You turn to see
I haven’t moved, smile and continue.
My hair is a wild thing unfettered,
wind-whipped around my face
hiding my tears. Your eyes of wonder
admire the cracks in the wall, trace numbers
in the tombstones with your small finger,
counting; while I trace the numbers
in my mind and pray for your future.
My camera hangs lifeless around my neck.
Our only pictures of the day captured
in the minds of a small boy,
not yet five,
and his mummy.
© Erin Hilder