What do a cemetery and a heart attack have in common?
Not what you might think.
So there I was, home for spring break in the Midwest and taking a little side trip to place some cheery flowers at my parents’ grave.
The grounds were drab with only a hint of the green that is to come. The wind blew last autumn’s leaves past the headstones. It all looked a little sad. So I wanted to bring a glorious ray of floral sunshine to that chilly, somber place.
I arranged the freshly wrapped bouquets at either side of the headstone, took photos, then sat in my rental car, idling because my chilled bones wanted a little heat. I texted photos to family members so they could see how lovely the grave looked. But then I noticed the left bouquet had turned slightly in its vase. The symmetry was off. Mom’s side was perfect, Dad’s was crooked. He wouldn’t mind, but I knew she would.
Must FIX this esthetic boo-boo. So I hopped out of the car and left the door open, car still idling. I rearranged the left bouquet and heard a car door slam behind me. I turned and saw—
No folks, it’s not what you think.
This is small town USA.
The cemetery lies next door to a farm.
And despite what you may have read in picture books, cows, ducks, sheep, etc. have no interest in driving rental cars.
Bicycles and tractors,
maybe. Rental cars, no.
Ghosts, however, love joy-riding down cemetery roads in other peoples’ cars.
But I didn’t know this crucial factoid until I saw my rental car driving away without me—right down that cemetery road and headed toward a curve.
No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t have time to yell. I ran.
I ran faster than I thought I was still capable of running. (Luckily, I was wearing tennis shoes.)
The car headed past the curve and onto the grass.
I powered on my jet pack and reached for the door handle as the car approached a tree and a headstone. I yanked open the door, jump-pulled myself in and slammed on the brake.
The car stopped two feet from permanent embarrassment.
No time to sit and shake, I put the car in Reverse and backed up before anyone passing on the blacktop to town saw me. When I reached the curve of the cemetery road, I shoved the gear into Park and turned off the engine. For ten full minutes, I sat and shook, staring at the muddy tracks of the car in the ground past the curve, the tracks that stopped in front of the tree and headstone.
And then I cursed my ADD, my wanting to make the flowers look perfect, my leaving the car in drive, and yes, I cursed the depth of my stupidity.
I turned to see if Mom and Dad were shaking their heads. They were, but they were also smiling.
They must have known how it was going to turn out.