This photo was produced by Shari Marshal. The cemetery in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada.
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. Her doctor suggested she consider exercise that she can do safely at home. He had also mentioned that Mac should look for any opportunity to help Inga exercise her memory.
Mac too was beginning to struggle with the steep slope, but they had made this trip as often as possible for two 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 tool bucket to trim and clean up the graves because no one else did anymore.
Pulling her gently he said, “Come along my love. We have enough time to take care of a couple today. Can you smell how fresh and clean the air is today?”
She nodded; thankful yet again for his persistence in doing this with her.
They carefully made their way past many grave markers that time had all but dissolved. They came to where they had left off yesterday. They paused and Inga struggled to catch her breath.
“Another one with no name Inga. What do you think; could this be the one?” They both knew the answer was beyond reach but it was her ritual and he would keep asking .
He laid down a small, thick carpet 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’m so tired. 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 despite not knowing 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.
“I was born here while Daddy was away, but he 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. I still recall how strong you looked in your High School 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 cemetery leaving this . . . this mess. The yard owner 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, she began her efforts to take care of Daddy’s grave by taking care of all of them. 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? It’s the only grave with one of those rotten gopher mounds. 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 old carpet and they began their clean up. Mac picked up the hand shovel and pushed the dirt of the gopher mound aside to find the hole. Once he found it, he would use 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. “I should have bought the gopher trap. They make such a mess.”
But today, on his second scoop, his shovel snagged on something in the loose soil. He tried to lift it out, but there was a cord holding it to the remaining soil. He put the shovel down and pulled the object clear and brushed the dirt away. What is this, he thought, and as he cleared away the dirt, he realized what it was, Well! What are the chances? It was two small metal plates with information pressed into them.
His breath all but stopped as he read one.
“Inga, my dear, you must look at this. It can’t be true, but I think it is.”
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. “It’s Daddy. These are his dog tags . . .” She smiled tensely and began to sob with joy, clutching the tags to her breast.
Mac shook his head. “I can hardly believe it. After all these years, a gopher helped us find him. I think we might want to invest in a nice head stone now. What do you think?”
Inga’s bittersweet smile turned into a tearful laugh as she hugged his arm. “Yes. I don’t want to risk him being forgotten again.”