My mother lived in the present. The past ceased to exist the moment the clock’s hands inched forward. She seldom mentioned her Ozark childhood or her nine siblings. One story she did share was about Dan, her favorite brother. He’d died in a Colorado silver mine accident.
My dad and mom and her eldest brother retrieved Dan’s body. In their early twenties and poor, they had no money for a decent casket. So they put his body in a rickety wooden box. It’s top was a couple of slats hastily nailed together.
The three of them drove a battered truck with worn-out tires down U.S. Route 71 toward the Ozarks, the makeshift casket thumping up and down on the truck bed.
Some place on 71 they encountered the mother of all potholes. The box took wing. It thudded to the bottom of a rock-strewn gully and splintered into shrapnel that littered a nearby field. Dan’s lifeless body flew forth into the humid Ozark air. Encountering a fence, it flopped onto the drought-cracked ground.
Why of all the stories Mom could have told me was that the one she remembered? Her favorite brother dead. His casket in pieces. His body crumpled against barbed wire.
She didn’t tell me how much farther they had to go to get to the Anderson cemetery. Or if she got in the back of the truck and held his body close, his head resting against her breast.
Did he smell? She didn’t mention that either.
But the memory abided, locked firm in that heart of hers which had known and came to know so much deep sorrow.