The featured photo above was produced by Shari Marshal 2019. The cemetery itself is located in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, close to the Alaska, US border.
Mac held Inga’s hand as they slowly made their way up to dirt road to the graveyard. Inga was not going to be able to do this much longer. The doctor had already told her that she needed to consider exercise that she could do safely at home. The doctor had also mentioned to Mac that he should also look for any opportunity for Inga to exercise her memory.
Mac too was beginning to struggle with the steep slope, but they had made this trip as often as possible for almost 2 decades now and it was part of both their souls. He would help her up this hill to visit the graveyard as long as they both could. He also carried the bucket with the hand tools to trim and clean up the graves because no one else did anymore.
Pulling her slightly, he said, “Come along my love. We have enough time to take care of a couple today.”
She nodded- thankful yet again for his persistence in doing this with and for her.
They carefully made their way past many grave markers that time had all but dissolved. They came to where they had left off last week. “Another one with no name Inga. What do you think? Could this be the one?” They both knew the answer but it was her ritual of love and he would keep asking knowing full well that an answer was beyond reach.
Mac laid down the small knee pads and together they trimmed the grass, pulled the weeds and swept away the dust and cobwebs from the grave marker. Inga gathered scraps of paper or plastic that had blown into the grave site and put them in the bucket. When he saw her put down her tools, he quickly struggled to stand so he could help her.
“Mac, I don’t think I can do this much longer.”
“Let’s stand and rest for a moment then. Tell me again what we know.” This too was part of her ritual and it was a way for her to honor her father even though they did not know which grave was his.
“Momma wanted Daddy buried here, near home, after he died in the war. So they laid him here in this yard – somewhere. Momma told me she couldn’t afford a stone marker so she chose a wooden one like so many others.
“You and I weren’t even born yet Mac. I was born here but of course Daddy didn’t make it home to meet me. Momma got sick before I was old enough to walk so we moved down south with Aunt Mary where you and I met in high school. I still recall how strong you were and how you looked in your wrestling uniform.”
“And do you recall how often we talked about coming back to see your father’s grave?”
Inga, reached up with her other hand to wipe away a tear, “Yes Mac. I do and how when Momma passed and we came back finally to arrange to lay her next to Daddy, but the creek flooded in the big storm and almost destroyed the grave yard leaving this – this mess. The owner of the yard died in the storm and his office was destroyed, so no one could put the names back on the old wooden markers and we, we lost Daddy.”
Mac held her hand as she sobbed. After they moved back to a home down the hill. her efforts to take care of Daddy’s grave by taking care of all of them started. He always thought it ambitious but it became her way of honoring the man who gave her life. Week after week, year after year they worked with others, but now they alone were left as those others either themselves passed or moved away or no longer cared.
“Inga, let’s do just one more. How about that one by the fence with the gopher mound? It’s the only grave with the gopher mound. Let’s just clean it up before going home.”
She tilted her head ‘yes’ and they picked up the tools to move to the second grave.
He laid out the pads and they did a quick clean up. Mac picked up the small hand shovel and pushed the dirt of the gopher mound aside to find the hole. He did this often and he used a short piece of closet dowel rod to push much of the soil back into the hole so the grave site would not settle as much. He never got all the soil back into hole and used the small shovel to scatter the remaining soil. On his second scoop, he felt something like a small rock in the loose soil. He tried to lift it, but there was a cord holding it to the remaining soil. He put the shovel down to clear it. ‘ Not a rock’ he thought, and that’s when he realized what it was. He pulled it clear and brushed the dirt away. it was two small metal plates.
His breath all but stopped as he read what was pressed into the plates.
“Inga dear, will you look at this?”
She took the small chain and plates, immediately recognized what they were and gasped when she read what was written. “Oh Mac,” she said in a hushed voice and put her other hand on her chest as tears of joy began to form.
“After all these years Inga, a gopher helped us find your daddy.”