I’ll Be All Right If You’re Ok

I waded into the shoulder high corn, looked into the sun, and dropped to my knees.

My grandparents are buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery on the western edge of Waterloo. When we laid my grandmother, Mildred Bolster, to rest beside her husband, William, in the summer of 1998, the view was a classic, unfettered Iowa vista: rolling hills, corn fields, and gravel roads.

Just ten years later, Interstate 20 buzzes in the distance, the hulking Waterloo Greyhound Park sits shuttered just beyond, and a towering Sinclair sign pierces the endless Iowa sky.

The whirl of traffic notwithstanding, Mount Olivet is a peaceful place. I pulled my rental into the parking lot just after sunrise this morning, and stepped onto the freshly mowed grass between the headstones. Four strides in, I spotted my grandparent’s.

The air was soft and cool. I sat a while beside their grave, there in the shadow of a shady poplar tree, and let the quiet Iowa morning wash over me. The wind rustled through the leaves. A plump, orange-breasted robin bounced atop the monuments, a plump earthworm in his beak.

I traced letters with my pointer finger, then scanned the names around me, all great, Midwestern ones like Smith, Wallace, Gardner, Brown, Myers, Cunningham.

Just down the hill, a thin band of corn buffered the cemetery from the highway. I walked to the edge, then waded in. I stepped cautiously between the coarse stalks, carefully not to break one, until I was surrounded. I looked into the sun, dropped to my knees, and held my breath.

The ground was hard, strewn with dry, muddy husks and stalks. The leaves formed series of arches stretching off towards the horizon. It was quiet there.

I’m still not sure whether the Iowa of my childhood ever even existed. Memory is a tricky thing; colors change, shapes shift, fields are paved. The end is the beginning is the end.

Stepping back towards the cemetery, I noticed a few recently planted saplings on the edge of these two fields: life and death, growth and decay. The groundskeeper, no doubt cognizant of the encroaching urban blight, had planted a dozen red maples — my grandfather’s favorite tree.

This morning, beat down from the harsh summer sun, those saplings were thin and sickly. Someday, though, they will climb high into the clear blue Iowa sky, and throw shade on my grandson. And he will sit there a while beside my grave, and let the quiet morning wash over him.

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