My Uncle’s Graveyard

A sea of dry green brome grass with its yellow tops waved like murky water in the breeze. I hiked up the hill into that sea, exploring the area again as I had so many times previously. The brown winter kill from the previous seasons crunched under my feet as dust rose from it with each step. To my left was a grouping of bone white toilets tumbling upon one another. They were once someone’s brand new commode; in death they contrasted the green growth around them.

Trees and underbrush were here and there, with one large long grove of trees. This grove was the one that held our forts. These were the ones where we defended against imaginary enemies. It is where we emulated our grandfather’s brave fighting in World War II. We all wanted to be a hero in our pretend wars as he had been in a real one.

To my right was a large stack of twisted scrap metal among even more of the grass. Upon closer investigation, I saw that the metal was actually old discarded air conditioners, heaters, and water heaters.

I moved past these to get to the primary reason that I took the trek up the hill. Old worn-out trucks lined the right side of the wide path past the twisted heap of useless metal. Nearly all of these trucks looked the same, white, tool box panels on the sides leaving very little room for hauling items in the back bed. All were work trucks. Trucks that took men to fix the heaters and air conditioners until they were thrown in the pile or into the other piles in the world.

My courageous grandfather was one of these men. He started Mullally Plumbing and Heating, and then passed it down to his son, my Uncle Jack. These trucks took Uncle Jack to the same jobs that my grandfather had done, and now today take my cousins Tom and Mike. Uncle Jack moved the business from town to his farm where I am walking as a 36 year old in search of a portion of my youth. Can it be regained for a moment this day?

I left my wife and children behind. They were at the house enjoying the Fourth of July festivities which included volleyball, swimming in the newly dug pool, and conversation. I walked up this hill to find a memory, to find the youth that I could not wait to end when I had it, but now long for.

I see the particular vehicle I am looking for. It is just as tired as the others. This one was a dark green in color but has faded in the warm sun of summer to a foamy lime. The dash is a shambles, the doors, sprung, sit ajar. Three tires have lost their air, but one stands proudly. The truck is different not only in color but also in style. It was a straight truck, used for transporting large items to job sites. The flat bed with no sides remained the same, although the chipped black paint appeared to be losing the battle with the ever advancing army of rust.

A slight smile found its way to my lips as I worked my way past the bed to get a look at the side. I ducked under low branches of a tree, thinking of tics and Lyme disease, grown up thoughts. I stepped in the purple of mulberries from the tree and saw from their droppings that the birds had been feasting on them as we had long ago.

The passenger door was my goal, the decal that stuck out from my youth. I knew this was the truck that had worn it. As I rounded the corner around the door it came into view. The red and white that proclaimed importance.

Not everyone gets to have their name on anything other than birth and death certificates. Not everyone can sit across the street from a business and see their name displayed across the front. The bold letters proclaiming my mother’s maiden name in this fashion was what I wanted to see. It wasn’t my name, but it was still part of me. As a child it seemed larger than life, and that day, it grew a bit again.

“Mullally Plumbing, Heating, and Air Cond”. There it was as I remembered, sort of. The decal much more worn than it was, the letters barely legible. But when I squinted into the setting sun I could see the old glory. This sticker had been unique; perhaps that was why it was fixed in my memory. It had contained red and white as opposed to the black lettering on all the other vehicles. The joy in finding this truck and decal smoothly transitioned to melancholy as the life changes of the present became more apparent.

Grandpa in a nursing home, grandma living with Uncle Jack and Aunt Deb on this farm. They had to sell their wonderful house on the lakes. A part of me slipped away silently with that sale. The lakes were private. The signs that once seemed to protect us when we were there now told us that we were no longer welcome there at the swimming beach or the fishing banks. The proud couple that weathered many floods and turmoil had to leave their home.

A lump formed in my throat as I thought about what was lost. The one truck, the one that stood out became the symbol. I considered taking it home, fixing it, reviving it. Then I realized that it is too far gone. Not everything can be fixed or revived. Some things are just lost with time.

A look up from the green of the truck showed the orange top and side of a Volkswagen Bug in the weeds. I had big plans for one when I was in my teens, going to soup it up and make it a hot rod. Possibly had even considered taking the orange one that was still here. Even in my youth I had wanted to revive the old, bring it back. The bug was spent then, but my desire was always alive. Uncle Jack’s brother, Jim had probably brought this bug here. He had a love of Bugs, one that lived on even though mine had seemed to wither.

The sun was lowering in the sky, and I decided to take the full “two bit tour” as my grandma used to say when she drove us around the lakes at her home. I continued up to the burn pit passing more wreckage from homes and vehicles. I reached the top of the hill near the fence line that separated Uncle Jack’s acreage from corn and soybean fields. There was the burn hole in the ground that had been so fascinating in youth.

We had explored every part of it when we visited, and loved the large valley that it had been. Now it was much smaller and stored the next round of burning. Was the hole smaller, or was I larger? The area also failed to inspire the pleasant nostalgia I had craved. I turned around and went back down the hill.

A fallen tree was still visible along a fence line. We had been told to stay off of the tree, but always seemed to disobey that command. It had rotted into the soil. The tree had survived there for so long, but from dust to dust.

I did not stop as I passed the trucks this time. It was senseless. I had seen what I had come there to see. As I continued down the trail, I observed that the toilets, from this angle, appeared to resemble gravestones. These stones marked their own death, as well as the death of a part of me. A large part of my youth lay buried under this sea of faded gray-green grass. It will always remain on the hill lying next to the dark green truck with toilets marking the grave.

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