Greg and I had fun at the cemetery last weekend.I know. "Cemetery" evokes solemnity, reverence, respect, grieving.We did all of that, too.But the people beneath the sod, those in whose honor and memory we planted petunias and marigolds and geraniums (geraniae?) ... those were fun-loving people.In years past, I had visited that same cemetery with some of the folks whose bodies now rest there. Mom and I tended to Dad's grave, other elderly relatives did similar stuff, members of a generation younger than mine started to observe the rituals, little knowing that life's foreshortenings might apply to them so soon.Dad died when I was a teenager. Mom didn't die until I was in my 50s. So there were entire decades of Mom and myself planting petunias and marigolds and geraniums in the bed atop Dad's grave.Each year, we argued.Mom was very definite. So am I.In the beginning, we didn't argue much. Mom did the planting. I did the digging, the sod-hauling, the rocks-removing.After awhile, Mom's aching knees delegated the planting to me - under her direction. That is when we argued. She would threaten to not buy lunch at Wendy's. Mom had no car after Dad died, so I would retaliate by threatening to leave her stranded at the cemetery. She would raise the ante by threatening to tell all the relatives that I had made her walk the two miles to her home. I would call her raise, then trump her, by starting to talk VERY LOUDLY! Mom hated "scenes," and I didn't care, so that always worked, though it made for some fairly frosty rides down the hill from the cemetery.We ended up laughing. Sometimes, my own mother threw mud or dirt into my face! Oh, the shock! After all, I was so innocent!Last weekend, Greg threw dirt into my hair.Greg, 30, has Down syndrome. He also has knee and hip joints that are worse than Mom's were. He waddles, and does not bend willingly. Saturday, he spent most of the time in a lawn chair, earnestly turning each geranium upside down, tapping the plastic pot, then removing it, to hand me - most of the time - a plantable flower and root -and-dirt clump.When his sub-par fine motor skills failed him, the marigold's blossom snapped off and its root dirt fell away, I would tease him."What is THAT? Spaghetti? You want me to plant spaghetti? Grandma would be MAD!"Greg would argue back."No-no-no-no! No me! You goofy!""Goofy" comes out "doobley," but its meaning is similar, in Greg-speak. Non-family members are sometimes taken aback when one of us replies to another, "I'm not feeling well. I feel sort of doobley today."Purely by accident, a trowelful of dirt was flipped onto Greg's shoe.That prompted his throwing dirt into my hair. We had a good old time for a minute or two, before we thought about where we were, and became "solemn" again.After we finished the beds at Mom and Dad's grave, we "made the rounds." We visited the graves of Greg's sister Maria and cousin Jamie, and the plot of Grandma and Grandpa Goodwill. Grandma Goodwill died last December.At each site, we said something to recall the person, remembering this one's smile or that one's love of food or whatever. Then we said a small prayer. Greg's was usually "Thank you, God. Jaime (or whomever), I love you. Bye."Believe me, that gets you.By the time we reached Grandma and Grandpa Goodwill's plot, I was moist-eyed, but didn't want to show it. Greg, though, was seemingly unaffected, waddling cheerfully from plot to plot, saying "Hmmm!" at each pretty flower arrangement on gravesites we passed.I stood on Grandpa's side of the double stone, and Greg stood on Grandma's side.Greg doesn't read very well. He couldn't read this column.But he can sight-read: "Stop," or "Men," or "Exit." That kind of thing.His eyes picked up "Ruth," and "2007." This was the first year that Grandma would not be with family members at the cemetery, not in the way we were accustomed to.Greg's mouth got sort of square. Then...."Aaaah-waah-Aaaa-WAAAAHHH!"Greg bawled out loud, with all the subtlety of a group of donkeys.Startled, people who had been bent over nearby gravesites, planting, turned to see whether there really were donkeys in the cemetery.Greg sobbed. Again. A third time.Then, as only Greg can do, he tucked his head into his arm near his shoulder, and wiped his eyes and nose along the entire length of his sleeve.He looked up, caught my eye, and said, "Me OK!"Then he moved over next to me, put his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and asked, "You OK?"Well, no, I wasn't, not really.I ached for those people, for too-young grandsons Ian and Adam, for my own parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors, their resting places marked by carved stones outlining a scavenger-hunt pattern down the hillside of St. Joseph's Cemetery in Warren.I had tried to keep all that inside. Greg (as usual) cut through the appearances and took care of business.He visited. He planted. He remembered. He laughed. And, when it was appropriate, he cried, openly, honestly, heart-touchingly.Then, after I had answered his question by saying, "Yes, Greg, I am OK," he took care of more urgent business."Lunch ... now? Wendy's?" he asked.Pretty soon, there we were at Wendy's, getting Greg's favorite: "Number 4."And laughing, again, in that free and easy way that brings us back after having cried, knowing we will cry again, but then, we will also laugh again.Fun at a cemetery?Sure. Why not?
- - -Denny Bonavita is the editor and publisher of McLean Publishing Co. in west-central Pennsylvania, including the Courier-Express in DuBois. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org