Cemetery visits loomed large in my father’s Depression-era childhood. Every Sunday, he accompanied his parents to visit his grandparents’ graves. His mother then would instruct him to find some small stones to place on the headstones.
“What for?” he would ask.
“So they’ll see we were here,” she’d say.
“But if they can see the stones, can’t they see us, too?”
“Shut up and find some stones,” replied my grandmother, unwilling to debate his logic.
He would place his stones on the graves, but not without lasting bemusement for a custom he thought ridiculous.
I retold this story to my husband and our almost-grown sons, as we were preparing to visit the cemetery outside Buffalo, where my father and mother now lay. We had not been there for several years, and I wanted to leave my own conspicuous evidence that these were the graves of people deeply loved, remembered, and missed.
My older son thought stones were too mundane for his exuberant grandfather.
“Circus peanuts!” he said. “If we really want to honor Grandpa, we should leave circus peanuts.”
He had a point. My father loved those banana-flavored candies that resemble radioactive Styrofoam packing shells, and to us, tasted like them. But we couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute, so off we went in pursuit of circus peanuts – the unorthodox memorial treat.
It turns out, and perhaps not surprising, that circus peanuts are hard to come by. Trolling the long candy aisle at CVS, we spotted the ubiquitous M&M’s, Snickers, Skittles, and those insufferable red and white peppermints that nobody likes. But no circus peanuts.
My younger son piped up with an alternative.
“Snow-Caps! Grandpa loved those, too,” he said. “They were his favorite movie candy.”
True enough. My father was fond of those chocolate disks with the tiny white granules. He called them “Nonpareils” which means “without equal,” “incomparable,” “not another like it.” How apropos. We bought a large box.
It was hot and humid for a Buffalo July. We took a languid drive past the landmarks of my youth: my kindergarten with the same tetanus-laced jungle gym; the stifling apartment where my flute teacher lived; the nursing home where my friend Diane and I volunteered in high school; and my parents’ house – so poorly maintained by the new owners that the peeling paint on their once pristine yellow door made me want to cry. I did tear up as we passed Diane’s house, where I spent hundreds of sleepovers and where her mom, the vivacious Viv, presided over a pot of coffee that never ran empty.
As we neared my family’s plots, I noticed newer gravestones with familiar names. My orthodontist. Our rabbi. A beloved high school drama teacher. And down the row from my parents – Diane’s mother, Viv.
By the time we retrieved the Snow-Caps, they had melted into a slab of granular chocolate.
Quiet and resigned, my sons, my husband and I set off to find small stones to place on their graves.
I hoped my parents saw we were there.