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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

I drove for seven days to get here. Jawbone Corner in Canard, N.S.

It has cradled my family for centuries. I come to this cemetery once a year on my visits from Alberta. I am familiar with this scene though I have never been here at night. As far as I am concerned, Jawbone Corner always sits in hot summer afternoon sun, the air laden with humidity and pesticides and blossoms and manure.

Today, it presents itself to me as always: heat waves are carried on summer breezes that bring wafts of farmland to my nose.

To my left, a field of cows. To my right, a red barn that houses, not the cows, but shiny new farm equipment for sale. Behind me lays the narrow twisty Nova Scotia backroad and, beyond that, somebody’s field. Everything else is green below or blue above. Straight ahead of me is the reason I have come. Between the cows and the farming equipment lays a farming family, generation after generation, six feet under this earth.

Grey tombstones dot the green earth. A narrow tan path curls like a sliver of planed pine from my grandfather’s workshop. I walk this path until I reach the right spot, and move onto the grass – watching my feet carefully to make sure I do not step on anyone’s resting place.

Shiny gravestones mark the way. My name starts coming at me: Woodworth. Josephine nee Ells, Leander, Gertrude, Gerald. Then, here lies my Grampie: Donald C. Woodworth, 1923-2011. He rests with his wife Bertha E. Davidson, 1922-1971. Their shared marker sits atop a cracked and degenerating stone block. A small statue of an angel decorates their space, long blades of grass offering the angel a touch of shade here in the hot summer sun.

“Hi, Grampie,” I say as I sit down. The grass tickles the bare skin of my leg, so I pull my sundress down as much as I can to offer a makeshift blanket. I reach out and run my fingertip along the surface of the grave marker. The sharp feeling of its chiselled letters adds something to the experience, and I touch them every time. It’s one imaginary way of touching my grandfather again, after all these years without one of his big bear hugs or his scratchy cheek.

As I reach for my Grampie, I notice again that the tattoo on my forearm matches his gravestone. My tattoo shows wild roses superimposed on a triangle. Wild roses have followed me, and so I marked them on my arm. Wild roses grow in Nova Scotia. As a child, I used to pluck their petals and squeeze them between my finger and thumb, then rub the mush on my skin pretending it was perfume. I made wild rose jelly while I lived in the Yukon. And now I live in Wild Rose Country where bushes of wild roses line the driveway of my acreage. Like me, my Grampie noticed wild roses enough to choose them as his permanent marker. They line the top border of his gravestone. I wish I could ask him why. Only now do I realize that he and I both had wild rose hearts.

Grampie listens to me talk for a while. I tell him about what I’ve been up to this past year, my thoughts and feelings. It occurs to me that perhaps my other relatives are listening, too. All of these people who held this place for me in the world, whom I have never met. Perhaps they have circled around on the other side, enjoying each other’s company and my stories. The only sounds here on this side are a bee that buzzes by and my voice, now saying hello to all of them, just in case they have come to visit as well.

When it is time to go, I rise. My hip has tightened and I move it around carefully to loosen it once again. I pause solemnly for several seconds to show respect to them all.

Tomorrow I head back to Alberta. Back to Wild Rose Country. Back to Grampie’s picture on my fireplace mantle.

“Bye, Grampie,” I say. See you next summer.

Carrie Woodworth lives in Sherwood Park, Alta.

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