Picnicking With The Dead

It’s October, so naturally I must write again. I mean, there is nothing about this month that is not cool in some way. It’s full of entertainment for families, for lovers, and so many fans of things that slink in shadows. Creative types are allowed leeway in expression in their film, stories, music, and oh the beauty of those who break free in expression through costume, bless your talented souls.

If your imagination does not stir this month, you are dead inside. Which, this month, should stir your imagination.

This year, best of all, someone had the brilliant idea to fill a gap, a spot where writers have been wanting. If you’ve admired #Inktober or #Drawlloween on Twitter, now there’s #GrimList2019. When I first saw it a couple of days ago, it seemed fortunate as some of my Long Island carnival footage kept popping into my head and I wondered what to do with it. There it was, in the first prompt: “carnival”.

I took two and a half days to finish the first prompt, but I had to learn to edit the pitch of my voice for I sound nothing like a teenage girl, and not quite like a man (but close). I’m an amateur, but I’m learning. The written story is already on my fiction blog.

Which brings me to this post. Not only was it fortunate that I had a little carnival footage, it was also quite pleasing to see the next prompt was “cemetery”. I kept thinking a tour of the local bone yards might be just the thing to lift my spirits about leaving New York, as a tour of cities for the dead was on the wish list for Long Island.

In Staten Island, I saw gravestones made of clay to mark the dead of the first settlers to the Dutch colonies. Their names were crumbling and falling away, on headstones made of clay topped by hand carved angels. My camera is much higher quality now, still too much for me to handle with a great degree of skill really, and I hoped to find nice treasures to illustrate and inspire my fiction.

Our graveyards aren’t quite as rich with history and atmosphere, they reflect more of the prosperity that even early Tulsa had. This town was built on oil and art deco. Even so, there were a few stones crumbling beneath colorful lichens to keep me happy. I could see some angles probably looking lovely in the fog.

Unfortunately, the day was pleasant. There were a few fairy rings and withered, dead trees around though, but there was still the backdrop of a highway and the nearby (comparatively wussy and boring) skyline. Sorry, I’ll shed this “good-bye New York” chip on my shoulder soon, I swear.

We picked Oaklawn, the oldest cemetery in Tulsa, if you don’t count the one that no one talks about under the BOK stadium. The one that apparently people slacked off on when moving the bones, some still being found in construction sites to this day.

The kids had fun. I put Lacy in her hotpants because I didn’t want her disrespecting the graves, but I still I felt odd taking a puppy and a toddler to a graveyard for tourism.

It didn’t feel odd to me when I went alone in Staten Island, even though it was for photographs, just like today. I mean, it’s one thing to be a tourist to the dead, but to bring a toddler who climbs on the fallen gravestones, and a puppy, and actually walk across the bones of strangers? In Staten Island, I took respectful photos at a distance through the iron bars.

Except, it was interesting when I stepped out of the car. This is only emotions I’m going to talk about here, nothing more than a wave of sudden emotional responses filtered through a creative mind (right?), but it was interesting when I finished getting the whole family out of the car and we started walking over the bones of those who have gone before us.

First, there was the probably to be expected feeling of relief at being alive, among so many dead. Similar to walking by a row of homeless people when you’ve been through shit yourself, but are far removed from the struggle now. You know; the relief that comes tinged with guilt and even more guilt when you realize there is nothing you can personally do to help the disaster of a life you are blithely waltzing by.

It’s okay though, waves of emotions had my back. There was an immediate expression of gratitude at the presence of life, of joy at a visit, even if it was the equivalent of watching a cute family ramble down the sidewalk by your window, when chained to your home by ill health. I know that emotion, I’ve had that chain, that’s why I recognized it. And… well, it felt like a response.

I mean, I’m not saying it wasn’t an expression of my subconscious, a way to deal with the presence of death. I am saying that when my daughter started sitting on graves, I started nervously telling her to get off of them, it was disrespectful (while snapping pictures quickly because fairy ring nearby and why didn’t I dress her in something white and flowing?) But, I had the feeling that someone nearby had that “stranger at a distance enjoying your children” (in a good way) attitude.

You know, the one you get when someone’s kid nearby is being a little rude, but they mean nothing by it and it’s kind of adorable, and as you watch the mother’s embarrassed panic you heart just grows warm with memories. Also like walking through a nursing home with a little one just learning to walk, the feeling of those eyes.

It seemed a strange emotional reaction to my own daughter running wild. Yet, I had to recognize that I just brought a cute puppy in pink pants and a little barefoot tomboy to the home of those who would have pleasant memories, if their minds were still there to have them. So, I guess next time I’ll bring a picnic, and maybe a ball for the puppy to play fetch. Because even if it’s my own imagination, it’s still worth having a picnic with.

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