Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Girl Walks into a Graveyard Carrying a Shovel

Nederland has a beautiful old cemetery--wooden headstones, rocks laid out in ovals to mark where bodies lie, families buried side by side, and sadly, lots of little graves. The majority of these graves are from the early part of the 1900's. My friend Jack Snyder was buried there in 2004.

Jack lived all his life in Nederland. He was 83 when he died. Born two days before Christmas and died on Halloween. He drove himself to the hospital.

Jack owned Snyder's Garage which was next door to the coffeehouse Tom and I used to own. The garage was a functioning service station in the 40's,50's and 60's, but when I knew him, the building was empty except for most of his mom and dad's stuff, several old cars, all in mint condition, and a bunch of junk my dad would have killed for. What I always think about when I think of that building was his collection of Amaryllis plants and his mom's geraniums which must have been at least 50 years old.

Jack visited that garage every day. I think it was like going to his job. He puttered around, fixed things that may or may not have needed fixing, watered his plants. He kept the place looking neat and spotless. And on every holiday, he hung out an American flag. I remember one fourth of July, someone stole his flag. Jack, though, refused to believe it had been stolen. "I think some kids just borrowed it so they could march in the parade with it," he told me. A lesson in spin that I use quite often when the ugly parts of humanity get the best of me.

The garage had smooth metal roof, and every year he'd paint some kind of silver coating on it. He'd never ask for help, and I used to send Tom over as soon as I saw the ladder go up on the side of the garage. One day we got there a little too late, and Jack was already up on the roof, wearing a brand new pair of red Converse All-Stars. He said he got them for the grip they gave him when he was up there. The image of him on his roof in those red shoes will, I hope, be forever in my brain.

Jack took care of things. He had two white Ford Taurus wagons, absolutely identical. He drove one one week, and the other the next. On weekends he drove a late model convertible. It too was white. I saw him in Boulder one day, crossing the pearl street mall on 13th street, top down and Tony Bennet blaring of the stereo.

He was always well dressed. I never saw him in jeans. He had some old pants he'd wear when he worked on cars or on that once a year occasion when he put on the red Chucks. He could tell you the exact date that everything of significance (and many things that had no significance at all) happened in town. He brought me cookie recipes, and an old photo of him that was taken when he was 10 years old. He was on a donkey (named Pineapple) and the photo was taken outside of the house that was our coffeehouse. That photo is sitting to the right of me as I type this. He had a gin and tonic every night. Sometimes he had another one, too. He always asked about my parents, even though he never met them, he threw the Frisbee for my Frisbee-addicted border collie, but mostly, he took the time to visit. He'd come in the backdoor of the coffeehouse, in through the kitchen, and stand at my sink and just talk for a few minutes.

So, last week at the cemetery, I was saddened to see that his grave was covered in weeds, and the remains of cheap plastic flowers and glass candles filled with wax that had turned liquid in this 90 degree heat we've been having.

I weeded, and dug out a bunch of old rocks and put in some new dirt and planted some columbines and poppies. I've cleared a place near his feet for a lilac, a flower he loved and one he'd bring me, wrapped in a paper towel, every spring.

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