The headstone was surrounded by an assortment of flowers. The grass around
it was green and revitalized, as if excited to be liberated from winter’s harshness.
During the spring and summer, Sunset Cemetery was peaceful and green, with the exception of the headstones that popped
up occasionally along the lawn. Its beauty and lushness remained of importance
to the town of Belleville, since it was the oldest cemetery. Rarely would people
see rotting leaves or dried grass around or on the stones, or along the sidewalks. It
was a place where people were proud to bury their loved ones.
Laurie Rappaport knelt before it, holding a bouquet of white carnations in her small hands. She slowly placed the bouquet on the right-hand side of the stone.
She then ran her finger along the lettering, her eyes moistening.
She was only two when her mother died. That time in her life was a dark
cloud that remained above her and in her soul. She couldn’t remember sitting
in her father’s lap during the funeral; or him holding her close when they were in this cemetery the first time. She desperately tried to recall anything, but there was silence.
It was sometimes difficult to explain that her mother was killed in a car accident and how it happened. Sheryl had apparently lost her bearings while driving on an icy road and slammed the car into a tree. The scene depicted in Laurie’s mind was surreal and foggy, like a flashback
in a film. The image was skewed and horrifying.
It tore her up to think that her mother’s demise had to be so…painful.
Certainly, Laurie heard of car accidents. Turn on the TV and there was
an accident on Interstate 91. In the front page of The Republican’s Local section, there were people from surrounding towns mentioned. The news was very different when it happened so close to home.
It is said, but not completely proven as Laurie found out, that a person’s memory does not precede the age of
five or six. Her first memory was at the age of four. When looking back at it, it was as if she’d suddenly awoken from a dream, since she did not remember
earlier than that.
In one instance, she remembered sitting on her father’s lap in church, long after the service had ended. Earlier on, the priest had mentioned Heaven and the angels residing there. Looking up at her father, she asked, “Is that where Mommy is?
Is she an angel?” It was one of the few times in her life that she
had seen him cry. Guilt would later plague her, even though it was just an innocent
Based on pictures she’d seen of her mother, she knew she had taken after her in some ways. Same light brown hair and build. Laurie was five foot two,
though, whereas Sheryl had been five six, and Laurie had her father’s hazel eyes.
Family members had also told her how she had taken after her mother in terms of their personalities.
A slight breeze blew across Laurie’s face and her hair shifted. She
stood up and tugged on the hem of her sleeveless blouse to straighten it out.
At eighteen, Laurie had no idea where her life was going to be headed. Having
just graduated from Belleville High School a month earlier, she was now on her own in the “real world.” Realistically, she should have applied to college to attend in the fall, but she didn’t. Her grades had earned her a seat in the National Honor Society as well as offers for scholarships, but
she turned down the scholarships, for the reason that she couldn’t make up her mind.
She knew she could attend either Springfield Technical Community College or Holyoke Community College, and then go
from there, but it just wasn’t what she wanted yet.
Growing up, she felt closer to her father than she expected to. She knew
that she could turn to him if she ever needed it. Sometimes they still held hands
while saying their dinnertime prayers. Little things she knew she could depend
on him for. However, he wasn’t nor could be the mother figure she needed,
though. This was a reason, she would tell him in unspoken words, she did not
mind if he dated a woman or think of getting remarried if it came to that.
What she felt she lacked more than anything was someone close to her in age that could relate to her. While in high school, it was not easy to open up to other girls.
Many of them seemed self-absorbed: concerned with their looks, their boyfriends, or the latest fashions. Laurie, though not entirely comfortable with her figure, was not like that at all. Her main concern was just to find out who she was. She did
not need trendy clothes, expensive makeup, or money for that.
She wanted was someone outside of her family to help her. Guidance counselors
and teachers were a wonderful help in identifying her strengths, but they did not offer the assistance she needed to better
understand what kind of person she was in other areas. For instance, was she
capable of loving someone? Was it possible someone would fall in love with a
woman who spent most of her free time reading books than watching a movie? Would
someone understand her past and not pity her, but love her regardless? All these
questions plagued her adolescence while she observed her peers hanging out with each other.
She didn’t want to change just to fit in. She couldn’t understand
why people changed for others. It was like losing your identity, she always thought.
Laurie traced her finger along the lettering of the stone again, wondering what her mother would have had to say about
this. From what she had heard from family, her mother once felt the same way. While it made her feel comforted in knowing that, it did not ease the pain of emptiness
and loneliness. Is this how everyone feels when they don’t have one parent?
While she was certain that she would not have been that different of a person if her mother were still alive, she had
the feeling that she might have had a better grasp of what her future was. In
some ways, there was comfort in not knowing. It made each new day an adventure,
scary and exciting, unpredictable and spontaneous.
Despite the insurmountable pressures of what it was once like to be a high school student: when worrying over the trigonometry
test would send her into late night studying, or a 500-word essay that was due the following Friday, she was glad to have
graduated and leave it in the past.
High school was one chapter in her life closed. Sometimes she thought
she might miss the classes and teachers who molded her brain into a bright and functioning machine, and not miss anything
else. But, in the short span of a month, she caught her breath and relaxed. She was not going to miss any of it at all.
As Laurie headed back to her car, she felt a shiver sneak along on her spine and moved downward. She hugged herself, trying to warm up. Sometimes after leaving
Sunset Cemetery, she would get the feeling as if someone with cold fingers touched her back.
She’d close her eyes and imagine it was her mother guiding her back to the real world again.
She took the short drive home. Clouds were rolling in, darkening the sky,
and she wondered if it was going to rain. Just to be on the safe side, she rolled
the window up.
It didn’t take long before she pulled into Pleasant Street. Sighing,
she parked in the driveway. After taking the keys out of the ignition, she emerged
from the car. The wind picked up slightly.
A screen door slammed in the distance. Laurie turned to the direction
it came from. She saw her father carrying a box from the Rosegartens’ house
to their Plymouth Sundance. She smiled when she noticed the elderly couple come
out of the house, also carrying boxes to bring to the car.
Laurie put the keys in her pocketbook and walked over to the house across the street.
She’d known that the Rosegartens were moving, but she didn’t know that her father was helping them. Then again, it didn’t surprise her.
The Rosegartens had been married for fifty-three years and in their early eighties.
Their exact age was never revealed to her, but one thing was for certain: they did not behave or appear as old as they
were. Laurie marveled often at how they kept going. They could be seen walking around the neighborhood, in church on Sundays, or shopping together at Big Y. They were a couple who would do anything for a friend or neighbor.
When Grace saw Laurie coming, she grinned and hugged Laurie. “So
lovely to see you, Laurie dear,” she said with a smile.
“You too, Mrs. Rosegarten,” Laurie answered, smiling.
She nodded to the clothesline in the Rappaports’ backyard as she wrapped her arms around herself. “I was just telling Bob that I remember when you all came to this street. You were just a little baby.” Grace motioned with her
hands to the clothesline that stood in their own yard and then crossed her arms again.
“Your mom hung clothes out on the line. Bob and I happened to be
going for a walk around the neighborhood. Good for your health, you know.
“Anyway, I noticed the clothes and sheets were on the ground. I
told Bob, ‘Let me get some clothespins before we go too far.’ So
together, we hung the clothes and sheets up. Then after, I knocked on the door
and handed your mother a bag of clothespins in a Big Y bag. I explained to her
what happened and I knew the hassles of being a young mother and unpacking.”
Laurie smiled again. She heard this story so many times she knew it almost
by heart. It was not something she remembered firsthand, but it came up on occasion. Grace recalled the story as if it had happened yesterday.
“So that night, I was washing the dishes,” Grace continued, “and there was a knock on our door. I answered the door and it was your mother with you beside her. She was holding a plate with a freshly baked loaf of bread on it.
Your mother was shy, Laurie, but she was adorable. ‘This is for
you and your husband,’ she said to me, ‘I was baking some bread for our family, but I wanted to bake one for you. In return for what you did.’”
“A loaf of bread and a bag of clothespins is what brought us together,” Robert said, smiling. “That is what we have always said.”
“Without a doubt,” Grace agreed. “It is hard to leave
this beautiful neighborhood, but Bob and I feel that it is necessary. We’re
moving to the Grand Oak Apartments, which is very affordable. So, we won’t
Without warning, Grace pecked Laurie on the cheek. “We are very
proud of you, Laurie. We have been blessed to watch you grow up into the woman
you are. Our own grandchildren are all grown up now, so you’ve been almost
like a great-granddaughter to us.” Grace winked at Laurie.
Laurie nodded, swallowing hard at the lump that had formed in her throat.
“Is that it?” Robert asked Gary.
“Yep, that ought to do it,” Gary replied. He extended his
hand to Robert. “Take care of yourself.
You two have been such wonderful neighbors.”
Robert shook his hand. “You as well, Gary. If you ever need anything, call us. Grace gave you the number
to our new place, I assume?”
“She did,” Gary said.
“Thank you for all your help, Gary,” Grace said. “We
couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Don’t mention it,” Gary said. “You both have
done so much for us over the years. It’s nice to return the favor once
in a while.”
Laurie could see Grace’s blue eyes glisten as she smiled.
Gary opened and then held the passenger door open for Grace as she sat down in the car.
He waited to close the door until after she put her seatbelt on. Laurie
wrapped her arms around herself, trying to ward off the chill in the air.
Robert started the engine. He slowly backed
the car up and they both waved to Laurie and Gary, who were standing in the driveway.
Laurie stayed fixed in that spot until she couldn’t see the car anymore.
Then she followed Gary back to their house