Death in the LifeNov 8th, 2015 | By Taylor Long Crow | Category: 27-2: American Indian Law
It was the middle of June, and the sun was beating down on my head as the four of us jumped out of the bed of my dad’s pickup. My brother, my cousin, my best friend, and a rented riding mower accompanied me for the ride, as we waited for my uncle and his friend to show up so that business could finally get started.
As we approached, the full view of a place symbolizing the last remnants of life became clear. The cemetery, forlorn in its unkemptness, yearned for attention as we began to scout the area with our curious minds and eyes at the helm. This place itself wasn’t extravagant in any way, just a small patch of land for use by local residents—which used to include my father and his parents before him. The people had moved away, but those at peace could not. As such, my father and his brother felt it a necessity to come here three times during the summer (one trip for Memorial Day, another in June, and a third trip in July) to help keep the place looking decent enough for our elders.
A tall tree, the species I do not recall, stood in the distance as we approached the entrance, wading through wild grass and weeds that came up to our stomachs. The tallest tombstones could hardly be made out and we walked through the gate to see if we could find any names we knew. Unfortunately, most of the names and epitaphs were faded beyond recognition, with only the memories of relatives to serve as their testaments of life.
We wandered the cemetery as the second pickup approached, and along with it two more people and more mowers. My dad had unloaded his mower already and was cutting a small path towards us. I asked him if he knew where our relatives were buried, and he took us to the corner plot by the big tree. He told us many of his aunts and uncles were buried here, as well as two of his sisters who had passed at a very early age. I felt a small tinge of solemnity cross my body as I thought of those before me. I approached the tree overlooking the creek, admiring its size as if it were safeguarding my relatives, and instinctively put my hand on the trunk in hopes of gaining its memory of the events that transpired here. But alas, it was to no avail.
The second squad had started making their way to the entrance as we exited the place both to avoid hindrance and to embrace adventure. It wasn’t long before we found an old building, which I am guessing was a school house, a church, or maybe both. Overrun by wildlife and the elements, we did what normal adolescents would do and got our damage in—too naïve to consider that maybe what we were doing was desecration. We took bricks from the walls, tires, and even a barrel to roll down a steep incline that led down to the creek.
My cousin and I looked on as my friend took off his shoes, although the reason escapes me. Surprising all of us, he threw it the way of the incline. He dashed to the edge and we followed, small giggles still filling the air between us. The shoe was near the edge of the bank along with a tire and some bricks that had not made it to the creek. He began his descent down, hoping to salvage his shoe soon. But we reacted faster and took the barrel we had found and rolled it down the incline at a different angle that would reach the same destination. We watched as the barrel bumped its way past my friend, who, too little too late, realized our intention. The barrel hit the shoe and both rolled into the creek, carried away in the blink of an eye. The laughter erupted, and left him in a state of defeat as he reached the bottom and sat there, watching the spot where the shoe had been. My brother made his way down to accompany him, but my cousin and I had different intentions. We found a couple of small cacti, carefully plucked a few of the succulents, and with devious smiles tossed them down. My eyes grew wide as one tumbled directly at my friend whose back was turned. Bam! Directly in the back of the neck the cactus landed. The only thing overpowering the laughter was the harsh expletives he yelled up at me.
We stopped fooling around and made it an activity to find his shoe in the creek. My cousin and I walked along the incline as my best friend and my brother walked by the creek to try to find it. It had caught up on the side a short ways down the creek and my friend made his way to it. Unfortunately, it was on the other side. He waded through the water towards the shoe and finally grabbed it. The mud, however, had a different idea, and grabbed his foot. The only way to get his foot out was to sacrifice his other shoe, and yet again he came back defeated, opting to throw the other shoe away as well.
Two shoes down and a couple hours later, we made our way back to the cemetery, where the mowing was almost done and the place unrecognizable from the beginning of our trip. Food was being prepared in the form of bologna sandwiches with sliced cheese, and for beverages we had the choice of off-brand orange and grape sodas. Smiling as we ate, even my shoeless friend, we watched the sun set in a place where journeys often did start.
Taylor Long Crow (Sicangu Lakota) attends Sinte Gleska University and earned honorable mention in TCJ’s student writing contest for this nonfiction story.