We did out taxes with our accountant last week, on Tuesday. Our accountant lives in Melville, Long Island. This was the second year we went out to his home to do our taxes. Before he had an office in Richmond Hill, and we’d take the long train ride out to Lefferts Blvd. every tax season, so the trip keeps getting a little longer.
To get to Melville, we take the train out to Wyandanch, a dirty little town if there ever was one. Our accountant Phil’s wife Beverly picks us up there for the short drive to Melville.
The first time we went I was looking at the LIRR schedule and noticed that the stop before Wyandanch is Pinelawn. And according to my brother Luis, that’s where our mother is buried, in Pinelawn cemetery.
The reason my brother knows is that he would drive my father out there many years ago, when he was still living in New York and our father was still alive.
We were supposed to go last year, the plan was to do our taxes, then take the train one stop to Pinelawn, find my mother’s grave, and then catch the train back to New York from there. But because a combination of circumstances like going late, bad train schedule information and my own reluctance to go through with it we never made it. I was saved from dealing with my emotions for another day. I made lame allusions to get out there someday before the year was up but never got around to it.
I don’t know why, probably guilt, maybe a little fear with some shame thrown in.
This year we made an appointment to see our accountant Phil during the week, and we made it an earlier time than last year. Plenty of time to stop off in Pinelawn on the way back. I was committed.
After we finished with our tax preparation Beverley generously offered to drive us to Pinelawn instead of Wyandanch. No bother, she’d said; just a couple of extra minutes for her. We said our goodbyes to Phil and got in her car.
Soon we were driving alongside a cemetery with rows of identical white markers. Hundreds of rows, thousands of markers, extending for what seemed like miles. Beverly found the entrance and we pulled in. I noticed a big sign with the Veteran’s Administration logo on it and wondered about that. We found a trailer labeled “temporary locator office.” Inside a gentleman directed me to a small monitor screen that seemed real familiar to me; they have the same thing at the VA hospital I go to for treatment.
“Just type in his name and the year of internment,” he said. I wondered why he assumed I was looking for a he. I typed in my mother’s name and got a “no matches found” message.
“My brother told me she was buried here at Pinelawn,” I explained to the man.
“This isn’t Pinelawn, this is the Long Island National cemetery.” Oh. Like Arlington. No wonder all the markers were the same.
“Pinelawn’s next door. Go out the gate and make a left, and it will be the first entrance on your left.
Pinelawn had a much nicer locator office, a big building with marble walls and a big counter with people quietly doing the things people at cemeteries do. There were two women trying to buy a family plot ahead of me.
“Can I help you?” A middle-aged woman asked. I told her my mother’s name and she typed it into her computer.
“She’s not here,” she announced. “Are you sure it’s Pinelawn? There are six cemeteries in the area, you know.”
“Well there’s us, the VA next door, the Jewish cemetery, St. Charles, the Catholic cemetery,” a Catholic cemetery… that sounded right.
“Where is St. Charles?” I asked.
“Go out the gate, make a left, and it’s on the right after you cross the railroad tracks.”
We piled back into Beverly’s car, and she graciously insisted on driving us to St. Charles. After a four-minute drive we found ourselves driving though rows of headstones. A sign said “Office”, and “Chapel.” I recognized the chapel right away, it was the last place I’d seen my mother’s body some 40 years ago. This was the right place.
At the office the woman who typed my mother’s name into her system took one of her sheets printed with a map of the cemetery and wrote my mother’s name on it, and circled the row and section.
“Section 132, row PP, number 65.”
Beverly drove us to section 132, and we thanked her, said we’d find our way back to the Railroad station.
Danusia and I began walking along the rows of gravestones, and I realized that the row letters were cut into the top edges of the gravestones along the path. We were at AA, and walked down the path till we found PP. I walked down the row looking at the names of strangers, mostly Italian and Irish names until I came to the one that said, “Maria Trevino, April 21,1920-July 27, 1977.” Below her name was the inscription, Descanza en paz, rest in peace.
I started to cry, not surprisingly. 40 years of pent up guilt, shame, and fear came pouring out of me. But I’d made it.
“Do you want to be alone, talk to her?” Danusia asked.
“Sure,” I said. I sat cross-legged in front of the stone and silently apologized for taking so long to get here. I noticed there were flowers on some of the other graves and wished I’d thought of bringing some.
But then again, it’s something I was never taught how to do. No one ever told me what you are supposed to do after your parent dies. When my mother died my sister took care of everything, all I had to do was show up. And be a pallbearer, of course.
When my father died, I was the only one around and I took care of everything myself, on a much smaller scale. My father was 97 and alone, so much different than my mother who when she died at the age of 57 had touched many lives and was so honored. I guess we determine what will be done and said for us when we’re gone by the lives we lead. At least most of us.