They brought me here a few times, when I came to visit. This beautiful presentation of pristinely manicured formal gardens with various themes are carefully tended by their caretakers to exhibit all the wonders of nature, only better. Trees, trails, shrubs, water and stone are guided lovingly to provide a welcome respite from the disorganized chaos of human habitation of neighboring suburbs. It is the sort of place that beckons all those who set foot in its sanctum to rest, whether temporarily or, in certain special cases that are more secretive and private, for a longer duration.
Mom and Dad’s favorite spot in this natural oasis was, and still is, the oriental garden, with its serene pond, charming pagoda and elegant footbridge. Two poi dogs keep a watchful eye while birds, ducks and chipmunks hold court and bask in the kindness of visitors’ outstretched hands filled with oatmeal pellets and peanuts.
Elsewhere on the large, winding property is a children’s playground, a humble but informative science center and an outdoor aviary, where we would honor the vast assortment of ducks, chickens, turkeys, pheasants, peacocks and other feathered brethren. There is an owl and a marvelously handsome turkey vulture in larger cages, and the wild birds in the neighborhood pick up the spare crumbles of feed that don’t make it through the metal fencing. For 25 cents, you can buy a handful of beige-colored oatmeal pellets, to make your offering to the menagerie.
We made a sad pilgrimage in the Spring, to scatter Mom’s ashes. It was a place of Dad’s choosing, as they would often drive there, a short distance from their house. Dad had no use for formal and forced social events like birthdays, anniversaries — and certainly not funerals and memorial services. He preferred something quieter, casual and personal. For so many years it was the three of us, and at a time like that, you want to keep it close.
The only family member Dad would allow was my friend Victor, who brought along his much appreciated humor and expansive world view. I, of course, wrote the eulogy, and gave my best effort to deliver it eloquently, as insects nipped at my back and bullfrogs boinked in the background of the pond. I was glad to have everyone there, for moral support.
Later in the year, Dad joined Mom for their next adventure, leaving decrepit, aged vessels behind and moving on lighter, freer. Once again, the ashes were kept in their bedroom closet, until the frozen ground came alive again and the park opened to visitors. I saw the walk-in closet as a kind of bardo — a way station, if you will, between worlds.
It was just Victor and me this time at the park, and I already deeply missed my dad’s sarcastic sense of humor. As it was earlier in the year, buds were just starting to form on the rose bushes, after a hard winter and cold spring. It was their 61st anniversary, which I felt was the perfect day to reunite them. In this world, in the next world, always together.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, my company wasn’t enough for him, to keep him comforted and content in this world. He was lost without her. The constant caring and attending to Mom in her fragile state may have been exhausting and at times soul destroying, but it was what kept him alive and feeling relevant. What was the point now?
Once again, I wrote the eulogy, a story of their life together. This time, the insects were dormant, the frogs quiet and still hibernating deep in the pond, and the fellow park visitors scarce in the chill of early Spring. In a few short weeks, the woods would once again come alive with the sounds of birds, the graceful gliding of ducks and the scurrying of chipmunks. And the trees and rose bushes would lift their leaves and blossoms in reverence and celebration.
In the evening, we dined at their favorite Italian restaurant and drank a toast to their anniversary and to their memory. In the warmth of good food and wine, I began to feel like myself again. It seemed an understated affair, for two lives so well and fully lived. But that’s what Mom and Dad would have wanted. Happy Anniversary. I miss you.