When Big Phyllis died, Lynn decided that, while flowers were nice and there was certain to be spray after spray from the Republican Women and the Daughters of the Confederacy and any number of other organizations to which Big Phyllis had offered her considerable talents and opinions, what the grave overlooking the bluff in Bonaventure Cemetery really needed was some water from Eagle Creek.
I don’t remember that I’ve ever said no to one of Lynn’s ideas, so as soon as the funeral was over, she – Lynn, that is, not Big Phyllis (though if anyone could survive her own funeral that force of nature could) – and I headed to the drainage ditch that had been endowed with magical powers by nothing more than the words of another force of nature. My theory is that one of the reasons Erk and Big Phyllis were such good friends is that neither one of them ever gave much credence to the odds or put much faith in the pundits. They both knew that statistics can’t factor in things like heart.
So there we were, in broad daylight, in front of God and four lanes of traffic on Fair Road, two grown women in what passes for funeral clothes these days, scrambling down the bank in our high heels, hers higher than mine. Right at the edge, thinking more of our shoes than our health, we slipped them off and tiptoed into the shallow brown water. I held one of Lynn’s hands and leaned back toward dry ground as she leaned forward holding an empty plastic water bottle.
The graveside service was not until the next day and Lynn had to get back to Atlanta, so the actually delivery or, as we preferred to call it, the anointing of Big Phyllis’s grave with Eagle Creek water was left in my solitary hands. As the gnats swarmed and the bagpipe player played, I held the bottle, whose contents looked a lot like a urine sample, unobtrusively down by my side.
At the final amen, I circled behind the casket, enlisting along the way, the assistance of Big Phyllis’s son-in-law to serve as shield; not everyone, we understood, would appreciate the appropriateness of the gesture. I opened the bottle, sprinkled some of its contents into the open grave, and emptied the rest on the ground around it. It has been a long time since I have felt such a sense of accomplishment.
Lynn’s husband Lamar is not new to this circus and he, without complaint, documented the gathering of the water with a photograph. It is an image of two women smiling, two women looking straight into the sun, two women smiling, two women holding hands. I keep it on my phone.
The other night, as we were waiting for Chambless’s pre-school graduation program to begin, Jackson, who is practically a first-grader now and for whom pre-school seems ages and ages ago, took my phone and began scrolling through the photos. Most of them are of him and his sister – ball games and birthday parties, silly faces and serious gazes, holidays and regular days I was just lucky enough to spend with them.
He stopped scrolling when he came to the photo of me and Lynn in Eagle Creek. He pointed and looked up at me. “Why are you standing in that water?”
I don’t remember exactly what I told him – something about a football coach thinking it was magic – , but the question has stayed with me, has continued to resurface in my thoughts over and over these last few days.
Why are you standing in that water? Why are you doing something that no one else would understand? Why are you doing something that appears to have no purpose or no chance of success? And, for heaven’s sake, why are you doing it so publicly?
The answer, I think, is the answer to all the great questions that start with why. Why was I standing in that water? Why am I standing in that water today and will I stand in it tomorrow?
Because love compels me.
I, we will never get beyond the boundaries of what we know and with which we are comfortable unless and until we are moved by love. And that is real magic.