And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
Last Sunday in Seattle I was still sitting with my morning coffee when the phone rang. It was my old friend, the constant urban explorer, who lives a few blocks away. “I want to give you a gift,” he said, “but I can’t bring it to you. Instead, you’ve got to go to it.” This man’s gifts are not lightly chosen (Except for the inflatable Sarah Palin love doll — but he’s getting that one back when he least expects it.), so I listened.
“Write this down. Walk to the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in your neighborhood.”
“No. No. You’ll be glad you did. Then go in the main entrance and stroll along the road on the west side.”
“Look to your left for a large white stone with two benches on either side of it. The name carved into the stone is ‘PUDDY.’ ”
“Sit down on a bench and look around. That’s your gift. Talk to you later. Oh, you’ll want to take your camera.”
I wondered for a moment if this could be some sort of geocaching joke. At the same time, I knew it wasn’t. He’s a man with little use for the latest techno-ephemera. He values time, his, and others. Sleeveless errands are not his style. It was a bright, somewhat cool, Indian Summer Sunday in Seattle and the cemetery was only a few blocks away. I suited up and out the door I went. In a few minutes, I was walking into the cemetery and looking around.
Mt. Pleasant is a fine cemetery as cemeteries go. Quiet and expansive without being overlarge. You can be buried with your own kind if you are Asian or Jewish, or you can just be planted helter-skelter in the great Seattle diversity plots that make up most of its area. I’ve written about this place before in Small Flags, a meditation about loss and war, but the cemetery tells, as all cemeteries do, more than one kind of story if you settle your soul down and listen.
At first, I was a bit disoriented inside the gates since the one-lane road winds hither and yon around the grounds and the office with the map to the gravesites is closed on Sundays. By and by, however, I spied off to my left and over near the wall of trees and bushes and chain link fencing that is the western border of the cemetery a large white stone with two white stone benches on either side. I went over and read:
Come sit with us awhile and share our sorrow. Though you weep share the joyful memories too. Look in your heart: In truth you mourn for that which has been your delight.
For Joy and sorrow are inseparable.
I sat and looked north to the outer edge of the large plot that, so far, had only one grave. And there they were.
I’ve taken this sled ride in winters past. I’ve taken it as a child with my mother and father and brothers. I’ve taken it one New Year’s Eve in New England by myself. Right into a tree and the emergency room for thirty stitches. I’ve taken it as a young adult under the moonlight on the banks of the frozen Red River in Fargo racing my cousins to the bottom and out onto the ice. I’ve taken it as a father in other winters past. It’s a great ride while it lasts; one that — barring impact with a tree — makes you want to get up, pull the sled back up to the top, and go again. One that makes you want to race your sled against the others. One that makes you want to see how many can pile on and go down, embracing the others and whooping all the way to the bottom where you all tumble off into a laughing heap.
You can take lots of rides in this life, but a full sled careening down a hill of fresh snow is the closest to a ride of pure joy as you can get. You’ll find it near the top of my list of “Best Moments in This Life.” It’s probably on yours too. If you’ve never done it, move it to the top of the Bucket List now.
The man buried here died in his 45th year: R. Scott Puddy
On the morning of June 18, 2002, Scott perished doing what he loved: practicing aerobatics in a Yak-52, in the mountains of Brentwood, Calif.
He was survived by his parents, his sisters, and his daughter.
The dark secret fear lurking inside you when you are a parent is that your children will die before you do. That fear came true for this family. All parents can imagine their grief, but all choose not to do so. But they did not choose, as so many do, to be utterly undone by grief. Instead, they chose to balance grief with joy, “For Joy and sorrow are inseparable,” and place upon this grave a bronze symbol of all that is best in this life and in this world.
It’s a gift to their son, R. Scott Puddy, and a gift to any in the world who chance upon his grave. It’s a gift outright.
If you ever happen to be near Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Queen Anne, Seattle, go see it. Take your camera. Send your friends. Sit a spell and leave a token, stone or blossom, or leaf. When it comes to gifts like this, the gift must move. Pass it on.