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By R. E. Garber, Jr.
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 R. E. Garber, Jr.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe First Daisy
LATE SEPTEMBER 2007
The late September morning air provided a hint of much colder weather that would soon find its way from the northern stretches of Canada. The sun never quite made it through the overcast to burn off the low hanging early fog, leaving patches of limited visibility. It was a dank, dismal day that previously had been nice fall weather for Midland, Michigan.
A sudden crisp breeze swept red and gold leaves across the gravel road, as the lead car of the procession slowly turned into the cemetery, followed closely by the hearse carrying his body.
The line slowly filled in around the site where a tent had been erected around the freshly opened grave, except for one vehicle off at a distant part of the cemetery occupied by a lone observer. A military contingent approached the rear of the hearse waiting for the funeral director to open the door to remove the casket and move it toward the receptacle. While family and friends gathered in and around the tent, several gentlemen helped position a wheelchair carrying the widow of the deceased near the head end of the receptacle as the casket was being placed.
The preacher proceeded with the simple ceremony, ending it with a conventional Christian prayer. Behind and off to the side of the tent, three volleys of seven shots rang out from an honor guard of veterans, while others lifted the flag over the casket and neatly folded it in the customary triangle, before presenting it to the widow and her daughter. Slowly, the family stood up and began to leave, some taking a single flower with them from the many baskets and sprays of flowers that had been placed around the grave site. Julie embraced her mother, holding her hand as the wheelchair was carefully maneuvered through the soft soil back to their car.
After the procession left the cemetery, the casket was lowered into the vault, followed by the lid and the soil, filling in the grave. The remaining funeral sprays and bouquets were arranged on top of the grave; the custodians gathered their tools and departed. All had left now, except for the lone observer in the vehicle that was parked some distance away.
The driver's door opened and a small figure emerged and slowly approached the grave site. If the tan jacket the figure was wearing failed to reveal the fact that the shape was feminine, the small hand carrying the single daisy certainly did not. Her hand was trembling as she lowered the daisy onto the grave amidst the other flowers that were there, followed by a tear that fell onto the ground beside them. She stood there for countless minutes, weeping quietly, and then brushed away her tears, turned and walked away.
ONE YEAR LATER, 2008
It was midmorning when Julie entered the cemetery, parked her car and approached the grave with a fresh bouquet of flowers for her dad's grave, and a small utility bag that contained a small grass trimmer, some glass cleaner and some paper towels. She noticed a single fresh daisy already on the grave, thought it strange and wondered how it came to be there, but quickly brushed the question aside and added it to her bouquet. She had intended to tidy up the grave a bit, but noticed that it appeared neatly trimmed and was in good shape. Satisfied that the cemetery custodians were taking good care of the gravesite, she sat a while quietly talking to her father in words that one wonders if anyone really hears. Finally she dabbed her eyes with a tissue, slowly rose and departed.
TWO YEARS LATER, 2009
It was the second anniversary of her father's passing, as Julie returned to the cemetery with a handful of flowers she had picked from her own garden. Again, she found a neatly trimmed and orderly grave with a single daisy carefully placed near the headstone, which had been freshly cleaned. Observing the other graves, she noticed that they had not recently been trimmed or weeded; the headstones had dried bird droppings on them and were obviously dirty. She was bewildered, as clearly someone had been taking care of her father's grave and leaving a single daisy. What she had dismissed last year without much thought, she now found wildly curious and wondered who was doing this; more importantly~~~why?
She resolved to come to the cemetery a day or two earlier next year; keep an eye on the gravesite from a distance, and perhaps then she could meet the unknown person who was pruning her father's grave. As she left the cemetery, questions swirled around inside her head. "Why just a single daisy?" she wondered.
THREE YEARS LATER, 2010
Julie nearly forgot the pledge she made to herself the year before, to visit the cemetery a few days before the anniversary of her father's death. She dropped what she was doing, packed a small lunch, grabbed a light jacket, and drove out to the cemetery.
After arriving and casually walking past the grave, it was clear to her no one had been there for quite some time. "Good, I'm not too late. Now all I have to do is find a place very inconspicuous to keep an eye on dad's grave", she mumbled to herself, as she moved her car around a curve where she could park and still see the grave clearly. She felt a rush as she thought of herself a detective on a stake out, smiling as she contemplated how exciting this could be.
Soon the sun started to set and no one had entered the cemetery. The rush she had felt earlier was now turning to doubt; perhaps she was too early, or maybe the secret visitor was not going to make an appearance anymore. As darkness started to creep in around her and the cool evening breeze sent a chill down her spine, she started the engine and made her way home.
The next morning the sun rose around 6:45 and Julie was already on her way to the cemetery. If that daisy was already there and she missed the event, she would scream so loudly she would be heard in town. Certainly no one comes out here in the dark of night to place a daisy and clean up a grave. She knew she could not do that, as it would be too spooky.
But again, it was evident that no one had been there. Settling in at her chosen spot some distance away to observe the grave, she soon began to feel frustration start edging in as she was rapidly running out of patience. This detective stuff was quickly losing its luster and excitement. As the sun started setting in the west, she gathered herself together to leave.
Before leaving, she stopped her car and walked over to the grave. As she stared down at the headstone, a frown creased her brow and said, "Don't worry Dad. I'll find out who is doing this if it is the last thing I do." Then, as an afterthought she turned, walked back to the grave and said, "Do you~~~already know?" As she walked back to her car, she wondered.
Julie dragged herself out of bed before sunrise the next morning, pulled on a pair of faded jeans and an old sweat shirt. Grabbing a jacket as she left the house, she mumbled to herself, "Dammit, I'm going to be comfortable this time." Her patience was wearing pretty thin now and the thought that the visitor might never return was playing heavily on her mind. Nearing the cemetery, she noticed the car that she had been following, turned into the gate ahead of her. Her spirits soared as she noticed the car stopping near her father's grave. Julie continued past the car, over to the far side where she had been staking out the site the past two days. She noticed her heart pounding and her hand shaking as she cut the engine to see what would happen. She didn't have long to wait. The car door opened and a petite lady slowly and carefully made her way to the grave~~~carrying what appeared to be a small bag in one hand, and a single flower in the other. Was it a daisy? Julie could not tell from this distance, but she was about to find out.
She started the car and slowly made her way over to where the woman had parked her car, stopping in front of it. She killed the engine, took a deep breath and opened the door. As she walked toward her father's grave, she kept going over in her head what she would say to this strange lady. The stranger looked up as Julie approached, appearing very nervous at the sight of her.
"Hello. Were you a friend of the man who is buried here?" Julie asked, her voice quivering slightly.
"Yes, I knew him many years ago~~~we were school mates."
Julie noticed the stranger's voice also seemed tight and nervous. "Oh, high school class mates?"
"No~~~it was before high school, actually."
"Do you live around here?" Julie noticed that the lady was slow to answer and that she again seemed very nervous.
"Yes," she paused and then continued, "well~~~no, not anymore. I was born here, but moved away some time ago."
A frown creased Julie's forehead before asking, "Did you know him well?" nodding toward the headstone.
The stranger averted Julie's eyes, looking first at the headstone on the grave and then to the ground. As she slowly raised her face, Julie thought she saw tears in her eyes as she replied, "Not too well; we~~~we were very young;" she paused and stammered, "I really must be going."
"Oh no, please~~~I don't mean to run you off. I come out here every year to tidy up the grave, but someone always beats me to it. Was that you?"
"Oh~~~no, it must have been someone else."
"Really, well that's funny. That someone always left a single daisy on the grave, just like the one you have in your hand. What is your name?"
Julie failed to note how accusatory her questions seemed until the lady appeared very agitated and extremely nervous.
"I'm sorry Julie, but I really must go," she said firmly, as she turned to walk away.
Julie was astounded by what she had just heard." Wait! How did you know my name? I didn't tell you my name. Who are you?"
The stranger stopped and paused for what seemed like an eternity to Julie, before turning around to face her.
"My name is Elizabeth~~~Elizabeth Callaway. Yes, it was I who left the daisy and tended the grave earlier. I didn't mean any harm."
"No, no, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that you did anything wrong. I just wondered why. Why have you done this the past two years? What was my father to you and how did you know my name?"
"Oh Julie, it's a long story. One I don't think you would understand or even believe."
"Well, I'd sure like to hear it. I know my dad was always full of surprises, but I must admit this really has me intrigued."
Elizabeth turned back to the grave, stared at it for what seemed a very long time before facing Julie again. Yes, there were tears in her eyes, as Julie could plainly see. "What is it? Who is this woman, and what was she to my dad?" Julie thought to herself as she looked in Elizabeth's eyes.
"I have an idea. Why don't we tidy up the grave together and you can tell me what you knew about my dad while we work? What do you think? Do you have some tools in that bag?" Julie asked.
"Yes, I have a small clipper, some towels, cleaner and gloves in the bag. But, I don't know what I could tell you about your dad or where I would even start."
"Well, why not start with how you knew my name?"
Elizabeth chuckled a little before she said, "Ohhh that would not be a good place to start. We will have to go back more than 50 years. I think I was in the 8th grade; your dad was in the 7th. We shared a study hall, the only time we were ever in the same room in school. I felt him staring at me from behind, as his seat was behind and to my left. Sometimes I would turn and look back at him, and he would blush and turn his eyes away. He was very shy, but cute."
Julie sensed that Elizabeth seemed more relaxed now and did not want to upset her again,
"My dad was cute?" Julie chuckled as she picked up the trimmer and started clipping the grass.
Elizabeth then knelt down and pulled up a small section of crab grass as she said, "Yes, he was cute and very shy. Of course I was shy too, so it was difficult to start a conversation. Your dad was on the basketball team and my girl friends and I would wait outside the school for the guys to come out after they showered; some of them would walk us home. Your dad walked me home this one particular night, reached down and took my hand without saying a word. We walked like that to my house without a word."
"My dad was speechless? Are you sure it was my dad?" Julie said as she laughed. She was enjoying this conversation with this new found friend of her father.
"Yes, it was your dad", she said with a smile, "and he didn't say a word later on my back porch when he bent down and kissed me. It was my first kiss and later I found out that it was also his first kiss. It was a very special moment, tender and sweet." She paused and was silent for a moment before continuing, "I've never forgotten that moment." Julie noticed a tear running down Elizabeth's cheek, falling to the ground, but could not find the words to speak as she thought, "Clearly, there is more to this story than this one kiss."
They were both silent now for what seemed an eternity before Elizabeth spoke again. "I went in the house afterward and into the bathroom to get ready for bed. I remember looking in the mirror to see if my mouth looked any different. I don't know why, but I felt different and thought I might look different. But of course, I didn't," she said with a sob in her voice.
Julie's mind was reeling. These were just two kids. How could this possibly have such an emotional effect on this woman after all these years from just one kiss? Julie looked down at her father's grave and thought to herself, "All right Dad, what have you done to this woman? What do I not know about you?"
Soon the grave looked neat and tidy and the headstone glistened in the morning sun. Julie looked at Elizabeth and said, "Have you had any breakfast? I know a great place that serves terrific omelets."
"No, I've just had a cup of coffee. An omelet sounds really good; I haven't had one in years."
"Good! Let's pack up and follow me. You still haven't told me how you knew my name."
Chapter TwoYoung Love
Julie took the lead into town and soon arrived at the restaurant with Elizabeth close behind. Her mind was racing with a thousand questions she had for this woman, this Elizabeth, not the least of which was how she knew her name. Where did she come from? How could a kiss a half a century ago bring this woman to her dad's grave? Why were there tears in her eyes?
"Well, here we are," Julie remarked as she pulled into the parking lot. "Are you hungry?" she asked with a cute little smile that her dad loved so much.
"No, not really~~~I don't eat much these days," she replied.
They entered the restaurant and were soon seated. Both ordering small omelets, Julie with tea, Elizabeth requested decaf coffee, black. As the waitress left with their order, Julie sat back and said, "Now, how did you know my name?"
Beth folded her hands and placed them in front of her on the table, took a deep breath and responded. "Ben~~~can I call your dad Ben?"
"Of course, that was his name." Julie said with a chuckle.
"Well then, Ben and I happened to meet about 5 years ago quite by accident on Facebook. The changes in technology since Ben and I were young are amazing! It is so easy now to connect with long lost friends and to meet new ones. Ben and I would never have found each other without the Internet." Elizabeth's eyes lit up now, as Julie sensed the excitement in her voice.
"Ben had an ongoing conversation with an old classmate, who also knew and connected with my sister, Lynn. Lynn had never married and was still going by her maiden name. Ben happened to see that name and sent her a message asking if she could per chance be the same Lynn who has a sister, Elizabeth. He mentioned to Lynn that I was the first girl he had ever kissed," she said with a cute chuckle. "Lynn forwarded it to me as a 'blast from the past'. We both sent Ben a reply. He then sent me an email and soon we were emailing back and forth, filling each other in on where our lives had taken us and what we were doing now. We sent pictures back and forth and that is how I not only knew your name, but what you looked like, as well."
"Oh~~~that is so neat! Do you live around here? What do you do?"
"No, I live in Ohio~~~Columbus. I am a pediatrician. I've thought of retiring, but I would miss the children too much. I have greatly reduced my hours, though."
"That is quite a distance to travel just to place a flower on Dad's grave. Should I call you doctor?"
"No, you can call me Beth; that is what Ben called me. It's not really that far to travel. Besides, I love to travel."
Their omelets arrived, and Julie quietly and slowly digested not only the omelet, but also what she had learned so far. Something is missing here. Surely there must be more to this than what Beth has told her. The waitress returned to top off Beth's cup, but she waved her off, then looked at Julie and said, "Julie, I must be heading back," then glancing at her watch, "It's getting late."
"Surely you aren't going to start driving back to Columbus now! It's too late."
"No, the car is a rental, I flew here. I don't like driving very far anymore."
"What airline? I can fix it so you can stay another day."
Excerpted from THE DAISY by R. E. Garber, Jr. Copyright © 2013 by R. E. Garber, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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