22 March 2011

At the cemetery

The sun was warm on our faces and shoulders. Old men in crisp uniforms moved deliberately or stood respectfully. My grandfather's children, my Mom and her brother and sister, sat with their spouses under the blue velvet funeral home tent. Two of the veterans ceremoniously unfolded a flag and held it as if over a casket, although there was no casket, only a slate gray urn holding Granddaddy's ashes.
When all was ready, an ancient marine, leaning on a cane, spoke with practiced eloquence of the nation's gratitude and of debts owed to its young men sent to foreign lands to fight for liberty. His voice was strong and his Appalachian accent made a kind of music of his speech.
A military chaplain prayed briefly and then warned us about the salute that would follow. Rifle shots echoed among the hills. Into the silence that followed poured the sound of Taps played on trumpet and bagpipes. The song was beautiful and haunting and perfect.
The two soldiers holding the flag refolded it and presented it to my Uncle. The marine who had spoken first turned the remainder of the service over to the ministers who spoke of dust and ashes and loss and peace.
And then it was over.
People stood for a moment and then gradually mingled and wandered and more gradually made their ways to cars and trucks and then away.

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