Sunday, December 6, 2020

Crown Hill

Yesterday I visited Crown Hill Cemetery for the first time since I was a kid. I don't know if it's a popular destination for field trips, but for my school it was. Mostly what I remember from those trips is climbing the big hill to see where James Whitcomb Riley is buried. I climbed the hill again yesterday and was surprised by how many other names I recognized along the way, the rich and famous families of a generation ago whose kids are rich and famous today.

I was there to visit a friend, and also because I've been feeling cooped up and the cemetery seemed like a safe place to be in a pandemic. There were a few other people around, some to visit graves and some out for fresh air. I was there for both. I visited my friend and took a long walk then stopped off again to say a goodbye. It's funny the memories you can come up with when you just stop to think of them. I remembered us getting lost on the way to a concert, and an oncoming van that veered into our lane. The driver had a red coat and a big white beard. One of us shouted "FUCK OFF, SANTA CLAUS!" before he swerved out of the way. We kept shouting it the rest of the night.

On Friday I got two pieces of mail, both from Edith, my pen pal at an assisted living facility who passed away last month. I wasn't expected to hear from her again, especially after my last letter came back with the words "DECEASED - RETURN TO SENDER" written on the back. Sometimes you don't get the closure you'd like and that's just how it is. So the two letters were something of a surprise.

The first was from Edith herself, dated back in October, but the second turned out to be from her daughter. She'd been there all along, as it turned out. She read my letters out loud to her mom and typed up her mother's replies. She told me how Edith passed, and that she was surrounded by loved ones. She shared kind words about my letters and her own condolences for my dad, which was a kind thing to do while she was freshly mourning her mom.

There's a plaque next to Riley's grave that explains why people leave coins there, and that the coins get picked up periodically and donated to the poet's namesake hospital for children. I didn't have any change on me, but there were a handful of quarters that others had left. From his grave you can see the skyline of Indianapolis, but that isn't the most beautiful view from the hill.

Before I left the cemetery I went back to the car and found the CD I bought the week that my friend died, an album we both loved and listened to often when we were out getting lost in the city. I slipped the paper cover from the case and left it on top of her headstone, pinned in place by a ceramic angel someone else had left behind. Maybe it would have made more sense to leave the CD, or maybe not to leave anything at all. I'm not sure "sense" is the right metric here. In any case I'd brought what I brought, so I left what I left. Then I said my goodbyes and went home.


People Watching

On Wednesday, I went out to meet up with a friend and do some writing. We met at the Athenaeum, a historic building in Indianapolis designed...