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Puddy: The Gift


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.

        — Eliot

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.’ ”

“Got it.”

“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.

Young boy in pilot’s helmet and goggles

“And down we went. / In the mountains, there you feel free.”

Gerard Van der Leun // 1692 Mangrove Ave Apt: 379
Chico, CA 95926

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • SoylentGreen June 6, 2021, 9:17 AM

    Thank you Vanderleun – I was always the little guy on the back, holding on for dear life. But we went sledding up on Mt. Rose with the grandkids this winter and I reexperienced all the exhilaration and joy.

  • Dirk June 6, 2021, 10:46 AM

    Awesome, a Yak! Bitchen airplane. I know of three Yaks here. OldDusted last name of Yancy,believed mention in regarding saving a part oft own,dumping Water from his crop duster ooo 20 years ago.

    Many many years ago, I’d rotated from the Tulelake Airport in a C180, hyd prop. As I did systems checks I thought I sawthe shadow on the ground of a fleeting movement,#shook it off, My IP started laughing pointed out the port side of the C182, as I turned to look it was old yancy in one of his Yaks,

    Acknowledged us,,,, stood her on its tail and vanished. It’s these moments in life that I cherish.

    I admire that young Piddy, died doing what he loved. I pray for that death, living life fully, not dying in a bed somewhere like a rotting pieces of fruit.

    Today I’m listening to a Spanish Gypsy group named “Barcelona Gypsys”. Not a clue what they sing, I crave the Spirit of the music, the representation! Food for my soul.

    Loved the article, wonderful!


  • John Henry June 6, 2021, 10:54 AM

    This is one of the reasons I come here daily


  • gwbnyc June 6, 2021, 10:55 AM

    My hometown cemetery, three in a row, era unknown-

    “This Is My Wife” “This Is My Son” “This Is Me”

    That’s all he wrote.

    – – my father’s ashes are divided between the country lane he courted my mother along, the school path near our family’s house where, at five years old, I recall vividly seeing him and my brother racing each other home to beat a rain, and the third base line at the Durham Bulls ballpark.

    – – my brother’s along the lane and the school path.

    – – my mother’s, the lane.


    – – – My instructions to my wife are that upon my death no notice, no service, no wake. Cremation specified. Remains scattered, if at all, randomly.

    She asked why and my reply was “I won’t have you sitting in an empty church.”

  • brio June 6, 2021, 11:06 AM

    The link to “the constant urban explorer” is broken. Where did you intend to send us?

  • DeNihilist June 6, 2021, 12:24 PM

    Mine is of the opposite view, yet strangely the same. My friends and I headed to Seattle to see Jethro Tull. My friend, a huge Jimi Hendrix fan, and being the driver, decided that we would leave Vancouver early so that we could go to Renton first and view Jimi’s grave.

    Upon arrival the 3 of us fanned out. My section of search ended up being where your fallen brave young men were resting. As this was the 70’s, a lot of the graves were from the war in Vietnam.

    I was near tears reading these simple plaques, as many who died were my age or younger. As we slowly started getting closer to each other in our search, There was an older couple standing by what i thought at the time was a single gravesite. They looked up from there reverie and asked if we were looking for Jimi’s grave. We acknowledged we were,

    The words that came from the mother’s mouth, still to this day, brings tears and sorrow to me. “it’s right here, by our sons graves”

    I stopped and glanced at the plaques and saw 2 with the same last name. One my age, the other younger. I mumbled some vague acknowledgement of their loss and moved on to Jimi’s humble grave.

    To this day I still cannot comprehend the depth of their sorrow, yet the generosity of their spirit. Sharing 2 son’s to protect others’ freedom and still having the grace to help strangers discover their goal.

  • Terry June 6, 2021, 12:51 PM

    Thank you Gerard for posting this. And thank you to the commenters who helped make my day.

  • Nori June 6, 2021, 1:11 PM

    Poignant,yet joyous. As is the commentary.
    A perfect post for this 6th of June.

  • gwbnyc June 6, 2021, 1:12 PM


    this is his mainpage, maybe if you poke around some-


    if you haven’t yet.

  • PA Cat June 6, 2021, 2:11 PM

    “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.” Sigh; memories of reading Ethan Frome for high school English class; the suicide-pact-by-sled-gone-wrong scene (set in Massachusetts, too) made me think that Stephen King took more than a few pages from Edith Wharton.

    Much more pleasant memories of sledding: going with my dad (a veteran of the 82nd Airborne who kept his memories of June 6, 1944 mostly to himself) to sled down the hill in back of Uncle Don’s house, Uncle Don being my dad’s younger brother. The hill itself is not that high– Pennsylvania has little in the way of serious mountains– but to a kid, it seemed thrillingly steep and dangerous enough to be worth many trips down on my dad’s Flexible Flyer. There was also a large enough flat area at the base of the hill that my dad could put me and my cousin on the sled, take the rope in his hand, and jog along through the snow while the two of us screeched the way little kids like to do when they’re having fun.

    Thank you for passing on Puddy’s gift. So much has changed; my cousin and I are the only ones left to remember those winter sledding trips. Flexible Flyers are made in China now rather than in North Philadelphia, and winters bring more chores to be gotten through than escapes into joy and freedom, but the memories abide, and bring quiet contentment with them.

  • Dan June 6, 2021, 2:21 PM

    Growing up in Redondo Beach, CA, there was zero snow. So our church youth group would drive up to the snow in the local mountains.

    Innertubes all the way down the slope. Hit the small rise at full speed. Innertube departs. Body crashes into snow.

    Later, a game of capture the flag, in the snow, near dark.

    60 some years ago. Like yesterday.

  • veeze June 6, 2021, 4:21 PM

    Does anyone know if he was, by chance, of the Eutaw Puddys?

  • Geo June 7, 2021, 12:13 PM

    A classic, never gets old.

  • Chuck Fire June 14, 2021, 11:03 PM

    Many years ago I chanced to hear an elderly Eskimo woman being interviewed on the radio. She spoke of her childhood, before the White man arrived in the North, sliding down an ice sheet beside her igloo. “Father father, I’m scared” she said. “Daughter” her father replied, “to have fun, you must be a little bit scared”.

  • Steve August 8, 2022, 10:11 PM

    Thank You for sharing this wonderful “gift” of a story Gerard.