Cedar Hill Cemetery (Erwin Mills Cemetery) Est. 1893
I never quite fit in right with other folks, not even when I was alive.
Those tobacco pouches I strung, they came in the thousands, each of them yellow-white, size of a young boy’s palm. Each of them waiting for strings to be sewed into them so this man or that one could pull it closed after he took out his wad of tobacco. We used yellow string mostly, my daughter Gracie and me, or when the yellow ran out, brown. Every once in a while you’d get a pouch misshapen or stitched up on all its sides like it was holding a secret inside and those bags we set aside to feed the fire or patch the holes in Gracie’s aprons. They were different than the others, made for something other than what they were designed for.
My one leg is shorter than the other and I was born that way and that’s fine by me. Meant I couldn’t work in the mill alongside my husband. Which was fine by me, too. Folks say the cotton from the mill smells sweet. And it does, at first. But once you've lived on its front porch for ten, twenty, thirty years - you start noticing the backside of the smell, a smell like a flower just before it starts to wilt.
Nothing in the world was wrong with Gracie. Even if he was ready to send her up to that mill the minute she turned seven years old, her father saw it, too – how sweet she was, how perfect. “My sweet gardenia,” he called her. “My little flower.” I taught her to limp like that, see. I told her, watch your mother, and she did, and her father before he died of the brown lung believed she’d inherited her mother's affliction and loved her just the tiniest bit less for it.
They couldn’t send her up to the mill anymore than they could send me, so I taught her to string the bags. A thousand a day we could do, sometimes more. That was two dollars and fifty cents a week and most weeks that was enough.
Gracie and I never spoke much for all the hours we spent together inside those two rooms alongside the tracks. But we echoed each other in our every moment. An infant is awful quiet its first weeks of life – it only starts crying when it realizes its mother is something separate from itself. Gracie, I don’t know she ever had that particular revelation. When I died she came here every day and strung her pouches and when she stopped coming, I knew she'd stopped showing up on this earth at all.
When I got here, see, I thought I’d know. Thought being dead meant you had some kind of secret ability to know when the people you loved had passed on – a second sight, so to speak. But turns out, death is just about as fair as life, which is to say, it isn’t.
Gracie never did learn to walk straight. And I been judged for it plenty, here where folks got all kinds of opinions about things they should’ve done when they were living. But Gracie wasn’t made for this world anymore than I was. Gracie didn't want to have nothing to do with it.
If I taught that girl one thing it's that behind closed doors, you wear pants and you smoke tobacco and you read books come all the way from Russia and you never love a man or a woman so much as you love yourself. Unless she’s your daughter. But Gracie never did get a chance to learn about that particular kind of love. And that’s fine, I’d tell her if I could. That’s just fine by me.