I walk nearly every evening, rain or shine. Although the area where I live has sidewalks, ball fields, and open spaces where most people do their walking, I prefer to walk in the cemetery across the street. It’s nearly forty acres of rolling land full of mature trees and all manner of wildlife. It’s filled too, with many, many graves. Towards a back corner, just a few feet from a rusted section of chain link fence choked by honeysuckle, is baby Wendell’s grave.
On my daily walks I began to stop now and then to upright a vase, pull a weed, or pick up trash. I don’t always take the same route so I never focused on any grave in particular, just did what little thing needed to be done if I noticed, and kept walking. It was obvious when family or friends would tidy up around a grave and it became clear that some graves never got attention other than the general maintenance by the owners. No one ever visited baby Wendell. The little granite urn on his tombstone would fill with old leaves, grass clippings, and spider webs. The day I noticed wiregrass smothering his tiny tombstone, I decided to make baby Wendell a routine stop.
My daily walks also meant that the many visitors who came regularly on Sunday afternoons or holidays would see me at one place or another on the grounds. I’d often be mistaken for an employee as they stopped to ask, for instance, where section L was, which gate exits where, or the location of the main office.
One Sunday evening two elderly women, who I later realized had seen me there many times, drove up as I was bent over picking a dead wasp out of baby Wendell’s urn. Not wanting them to think I was up to no good, I stood and walked towards them to say hello. They were all smiles and I was surprised as they began to thank me.
“We see you out here real often. How long have you worked here?” the first woman asked as she adjusted the bouquet of artificial flowers she held in her hand.
The second woman added “Yes, and after that last storm you were the first one we saw out here picking up sticks. It’s just so good that you work here.”
I watched the first woman struggle with her bouquet and said “Oh no Ma’am. I don’t work here, I just walk here.”
As it turned out, they were sisters who had come to put flowers on their brother’s grave. His is located just a few sites over from baby Wendell, between a dogwood tree and a very old azalea.
“But you’re here just about every time we come by.” the first woman said, still fighting to get a grip on the bouquet in her hand, and looking puzzled that I didn’t work there.
“And looks to me like every time we’ve seen you, you’ve been working.” the sister added again.
I explained to them how I might randomly pick up a stick now and then, or put some wind blown trash back in the can, but that they only saw me so often because I had one day noticed the wiregrass that nearly covered the tiny tombstone near their brother’s.
“I’m just weeding baby Wendell.” I said.
“Why? All that and you don’t work here?” the first woman asked as she lost her grip on part of the bouquet.
I’d never given it that much thought. I walk there nearly every day and it was just part of my walk to upright a geranium now and then. I had occasionally remembered what Nannie, my grandmother, used to tell us kids back home. “If you see a need, fill it, and don’t worry about who gets the credit.” she would say.
“Well we can’t thank you enough for all we’ve seen you do.” the first woman said as a tiny piece of her bouquet fell to the ground.
“Oh it’s just wonderful that you would help for no reason.” the sister added.
They both seemed about to tear up as they walked away. I never thought about needing or getting credit for any of the random things I only sporadically did as I walked, but these two women had noticed and they had thanked me. Those tiny efforts took so little on my part, but to them they meant a lot. They noticed and they appreciated.
I suppose we all do the random nice things that we do because we know it’s right, and it’s kind. Baby Wendell could never thank me, and none of us imagine we’ll ever be thanked for the tiny things we do, and we may not believe anyone even notices. But out there for each of us is the equivalent of those two old ladies, noticing and appreciating.
I reached down and picked up the tiny piece of bouquet the woman had dropped as she thanked me. I finished weeding baby Wendell and put those flowers in his little urn.
“No need to thank me baby Wendell. You’re welcome.” I said.
Stuart M. Perkins
17 responses to “Weeding Baby Wendell”
Well, I’ve got tears streaming; my nose is running, and chills are on my arms. Great writing! From the title, I was puzzled.
I knocked on the door, lightly.
Not wanting to disturb the cat bathing in the light of a setting sun.
I spoke in a hushed voice, hoping he was in.
I knocked again, this time little louder.
“Stu…, are you there?”
I listened intently.
“Stu, if you’re there, this is absolutely brilliant. Please write a book filled with beautiful scenes like this.”
I knew I’d missed him.
He would be on his walk.
It didn’t matter.
As the sun set over the people of Arlington, I walked away from the door, heading to my car.
Opening the door, hearing the children playing and the old men laughing, I hoped one day, one of my replies would be heard…
Touching and full of heart.
It’s a scene from a film I want to see, a chapter in a book I want to read.
Keep this up!
Nice one, philipshiell. 🙂
Reading his little “instances” of life in Arlington is inspirational.
He’s got that natural raw talent for seeing something and writing it.
When I read one of his stories and feel transported to another place with friends I’ve never met.
This stuff gets me in the mood to write about long summer evenings, wine and lost friends…
Write on! 🙂
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Simply beautiful. You have a kind heart and you are a master story teller.
Such a sweet story…you ARE a fabulous story teller…it demonstrates your caring nature. Nannie would be proud!
Love the story. I do the these things. A cemetary is a great place to lose yourself. I look at the stones and think about who they were and how they lived. When I go visit the Island I was born on, I have to go to the cemetary. I visit my Mom, my grandparents, great grandparents and the other family members. I sit on Papa’s plot and have a picnic as I glance over and see the gravestone of my great grandmother and her replacement. Yes, my great grandfather saved some money by using the same stone for his first and second wife. Grandma Gladys outlived him or he may have tried to squeeze #3 on the stone. I weed around a lot of the older stones. Some are buried with years of growth of perrenials that are not cut back or cared for. Thanks for this, brings back memories and makes me realize it’s time to go visit Dad.
Thanks. I do the same – ponder who some of the people were, what they were like, where they lived, etc. And by walking there daily and seeing the same names over and over, you eventually feel almost like you do know them. And there’s a great story there about your grandfather! I appreciated your comment, thanks again!
Thank you for weeding Baby Wendell!
My Baby Wendell, whose first name is not Wendell, is celebrating his birthday today. Middle names are not meant to be ordinary, and can be burdensome. This name was given in memory of my (not biological) Grandpa Wendell, who had no biological children or grandchildren. As life will have it, at times, my Baby Wendell–hardly a baby!–is planning to follow Grandpa Wendell’s path and practice law.
The grave must be very old. I wish my Grandpa Wendell had a grave I could visit. He chose, or his wife chose for him, to have his ashes scattered in a grove of trees at his home.
Now that I am thinking on the Wendells in my life, I may write a post about them and will link back to you, as my source of inspiration.
Thanks for that great comment. I weeded around that little grave not long after I first posted this. I wondered if his parents could have ever imagined a total stranger, years later, writing about his tiny tombstone and that so many kind people would read what was written and think about that baby too. Thanks again. Happy Birthday to your Wendell!
It is amazing how much life there is to be found in cemeteries. Lovely.
You and Mary Chapin Carpenter have brought me to tears tonight. Feels good to have a cry now and again…
A beautiful anecdote, and a very important point to make about the things we do in this world that we neither ask any thanks for, or need any, as they are certainly noticed by the One Who truly matters, and He remembers each and every little occurrence. And for those who would tell me they don`t believe in God, I would just reply, “That`s O.K. He believes in you.“