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  • Today, our dog Chase dug up the grave of our beloved pet, Rusty. Rusty was the dog that taught me how to love animals after my childhood, the dog I actually thought of as my birth child, the one my husband described as his best friend, ever. Happily, Chase’s explorations were only about 18 inches deep, so he didn’t uncover what I imagine would now be a disintegrating coffin, which my husband, Jerry, built himself. The lid was painted with stars, the tiny box lined with Rusty’s favorite blanket, his stuffed hedgehog, and pictures of us so he wouldn’t feel alone. I don’t know what I would have done if Chase had dug much deeper.

    Apparently this is the weekend for digging up and re-burying the dead. It is my mother’s birthday. And twenty-five years after her death I am still torn apart by seemingly contradictory feelings. My intense love, my guilt at not being able to “save” her, my appreciation of her strengths, my fear of her pain.

    Last night, my sister and I went through a box of old papers and photographs that Aunt Betty, my father’s sister, sent to me, several years ago, shortly before she died. I was startled when Betty called and offered to send me childhood photos of my father and their family. She had been doing some genealogical research, she said. It was the third time I had spoken to her in my life. And here she was now, close to 90 years old, dying, reaching out to pass down this paper trail, to share what she had dug up. When the box came, I took out the picture that was on top, a grainy print of my father and his four siblings as children, squatting in the grass along a riverbank. My husband said “My God, they look so unhappy." I laid the picture back on the stack of other photos, closed the box, and put it in the bottom of a closet. I didn’t touch it for four years.

    But after most of a bottle of fairly decent wine (Thank you Trader Joe’s) my sister and I curled up on the sofa to open the box and sort through the disintegrating newspaper clippings, pictures and report cards inside. We puzzled over unidentified women in long dark skirts and men with mutton chop sideburns. We cooed over our great Aunt Dorothy in a wicker chair, next to her dolls. We calculated the the number of children that our great Grandmother Younce had (7) and realized how many had died in childhood (4). We marveled at Grandmother Williams’ smile as a young woman with her strong wide face. It was not an expression we knew.

    Sometimes you want the dead to stay buried. But really, I think they want to be remembered. For someone to look them in the eyes, imagine their voices and honor them in their love and pain.
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