Mary and Watson had their final days on earth well planned out and prearranged. They were to have no caskets. A memorial service would be sufficient. They wanted gifts to be made to their favorite mission organizations in lieu of flowers.
So when mom’s time came one spring night, she was cremated in Carterville, Illinois and the urn holding her ashes was hand delivered to dad a few days later. He placed mom’s remains on top of the cherry tansu in their bedroom. He would take it with him to the second memorial service to be held in our former hometown, Greenfield.
The Thornton family had one remaining plot at the Greenfield Cemetery and I suppose dad planned to place mom’s ashes there. I’m not sure. As the youngest child, and even though I was 35 at the time, I didn’t know much about Dad’s plans. He talked to the older kids about that.
I imagine Watson planned to bury mom’s ashes next to the graves of his parents or else close to my sister Susan’s plot.
Unfortunately, the burial never took place. Watson made the four-hour drive to Greenfield and left mom behind on top of the chest of drawers.
When dad returned to Southern Illinois a few days later, there she was. Exactly where he had left her. So one clear night dad walked outside into his backyard, opened the urn and threw the ashes into the wind and over a fence to the empty field next door.
What he said into the night, what thoughts he had as he set those ashes free, what words he said in prayer I’ll never know. He’s gone now, too. Besides this was a private sacred time between lovers of more close to 60 years.
Children don’t need to know their parents’ grieving.
But I do know something took root in that cool spring evening.
Five months later, well into the fall, I returned to Carterville to visit dad. As I drove up to the house I noticed a profusion of color in the field next door. Bright, bold and hearty Black-Eyed Susans — one of mom’s favorite flowers — flooded the the wide open space.
“I’ve never seen flowers here before, ” I told dad as we stood together in the back yard.
“They’ve never been there before,” he said.
She was back to remind dad and me and anyone else who noticed that her she was still with us. I probably made (and make) much more out of that field of color than dad did. But no one will ever convince me that it wasn’t Mary who helped transform that wide-open empty field into one beautiful fall bouquet.