Your feet are in the mud; to me the mud has become roses. You have mourning; I have feasting and drums.
I searched Wendy’s home for anything I’d like to bring to San Diego, and in my search I stumbled upon a small wooden box engraved “Angel,” the tiny little fluffy dog Wendy had rescued and fostered, her first one with the Humane Society. As she fostered more dogs, she had searched for a permanent home for her Angel; but, in fourteen years she never found a home that would love her Angel as much as she did, and Angel had died in her lap the year before.
I opened the box and saw a tiny black velvet bag filled with Angel’s ashes and embroidered in eloquent gold thread with Wendy’s final thoughts of her Angel: “Until we meet at the Rainbow Bridge.” She had once told me that the Rainbow Bridge was a mythical place where humans and their pets reunite in the afterlife. In Angel’s box, Wendy had carefully placded two tiny purple and gold hair ribbons that Angel wore when they watched LSU football on television together. Wendy had priorities, and had recently mentioned that the 2019 drafts would make LSU a top ranked team that fall, and I knew she would have liked to watch them with her Angel again. I put the bag with Angel’s ashes beside Wendy’s and continued searching to take home.
I had packed hastily and only had a small, carry-on backpack full of clothes. I would leave the clothes if I found something worthwhile, or pack whatever I found in a larger bag or have it shipped. But, in Wendy’s jewelry bow I found something small that spoke to me and that I could carry it in my pocket, Granny’s gold retirement watch, a battery powered Seiko engraved by her employer. It was tiny, because Granny had also been petite, and the gold band would barely fit around the wrist of an eight year old girl. It was so small that the inscription had to be abbreviated. Instead of her full name, Joyce Hicks Rothdram, her employer had said: “To J. Rothdram, 25 yrs service. CoPolymer.”
She had been proud of that watch and her service at CoPolymer, a chemical plant adjacent to where Wendy worked at Exxon along chemical alley between the airport and Saint Francisville. I put it in my bag and glanced around again, and then I remembered the war medals near the photos in her office, but I didn’t smile at the war pun as I put them in my bag with Granny’s gold watch. I felt I had seured the things I most cherished from Wendy’s home. As Uncle Bob had told us near his end, you can’t take it with you. But, at least I’d try to take home Granny’s watch and my medals from Desert Storm that she had cherished, proud of her son; they, and my photo, had been on her desk at Exxon for almost 20 years.
I slept restlessly on the floor of her office that night, sad for the two young boys sent off to fight old men’s wars; and for the people who had hoped they’d return home and were sad that they never would.
Early the next morning we stood on the tallest bluffs of Thompson Creek, a meager 10 foot slope but remarkable in the otherwise flat areas marked by swamps and bayous draining into the nearby Mississippi River and near Wendy’s home. The slight elevation drop makes it a clear stream compared to the murky and slow moving waters of southern Louisiana. Mike and I helped each other walk down the slippery, muddy bank, both of us old men now and mindfully taking steps down what we had practically skipped down decades ago. He rested his hand on my shoulder as I knelt in the mud beside the water and slowly poured Wendy and Angel’s ashes into the clear stream, mindlessly mumbling to Mike something about “mud” being a Sufi word that means you and I, two things joined, and that Wendy and Angel would become mud. But I was crying so much he didn’t understand what I was saying, or he thought I was talking about the muddy bank at the base of the bluffs, where Wendy and Angel were slowly becoming a part of what they had loved so much.
Thompson Creek is wide but shallow, and it’s water flows slowly. The ashes settled onto the smooth clay bottom and gradually began to break apart and drift towards the center of the stream, where water flows more quickly. We watched pieces of Wendy and Angel break away and mix into a muddy and meandering serpintine stream in the center of the creek and move towards Saint Francisville and its small port on the Mississippi, where they would join the world’s fourth largest river and drift past Baton Rouge and New Orleans and reach the Gulf of Mexico, and then pieces of them would mix with the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and eventually make their way all over the world. Wendy would finally travel with her Angel, and they would meet at the Rainbow Bridge and be together happily ever after.
Tears too thick to leave my eyes clogged my vision, and my body bent over and my chest clutched tightly and my asthma wheezed from the pollen of azeleas and pine trees and my body’s inflammation from lack of rest, and I gasped for breath as Mike gently held my shoulder and patiently waited for me to lift myself up from the mud. When I finally stood, we rested our hands on each others shoulders and silently watched the stream of Wendy and Angel a few more moments, then helped each other scramble back up the slippery slope and joined the others to say our final words. I dind’t know what to say, and I collapsed on my knees again and cried almost intelligibly between sobs and gasps for breath and asked, again and again, why Wendy hadn’t told me. “I tried!” I cried. “Honor thy mother and father,” I bawled. “How?” I asked. “Just be happy,” I replied, seeing the words spoken but not the speaker. I cried some things I don’t recall, and then it was time to leave.
Mike dropped me off at the Baton Rouge Airport, and as the plane left the runway I saw Granny’s house directly under the flight path. It was a small, 680 square foot house that was modest by almost anyone’s standards, but it had a large yard with majestic stately oak trees that both Wendy and I had climbed as children, and a small, murky stream where we had played and caught crawfish and minnows. Granny had been able to afford it in the 1960’s because of it’s undesirable location under the flight path and the loud jet engines that passed overhead. But, despite it’s location and size, she had been proud of it, like her watch, because she had earned it.
The plane continued to ascend and I saw my dad’s grandmother’s house a few block’s from Granny’s, and in my mind’s eye I saw the path between them that my parents met as teenagers and where my life began half a century before. In the distance, I saw the mighty Mississippi flowing by the Baton Rouge Centroplex and LSU’s Tiger Stadium, and my mind knew that Wendy and Angel were just now passing under the Mississippi Bridge connecting Baton Rouge to Plaquemine. I shuddered, and said goodbye again and closed my eyes and lowered my LSU baseball cap and allowed my tears to flow silently on the long flight home.