Books: William K. Greiner – The Reposed (1999)

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by Nick DeRiso

Thumbing through William K. Greiner’s coffee-table book, The Reposed, I was struck by the way people honor their dead.

These stirring photographs, taken at gravesites throughout the Mississippi Delta, also made me think of my own father’s grave — left alone and quiet for better than six years after he died in an auto wreck.

A reverence I didn’t initially share roars through these pages, and in the most focused ways: You see inscriptions both profound and simple in the book. You see fake and real flowers. You see overgrown country graves, stark white mausoleums, unknown names and long-ago dates. You see big love, writ small — and heartache that shoots across people like an angry storm cloud. You see whimsy. You see every loss you ever had, car crashes aside, play out.

Yes, some powerful ruminating follows in the wake of “Reposed.”

My brother Dustin picked the spot for our father’s burial, because he thought a nearby tree was something Dad would’ve liked. I wasn’t there for that part. Truth is, I was gone the minute the folks at the hospital, more than 20 summers before Greiner’s book hit the shelves, handed me this sad and crumpled paper bag with a watch, rings and wallet in it.

Trinkets. All that remained.

Everything had happened in a dizzying blur: Bye in the parking lot of a place where we’d watched a guy play the blues, dead after somebody coming the other way didn’t time out yellow to red. I loved my father so much that I guessed I would leave it at that. I didn’t see the headstone placed, and didn’t plan for a time on ever going back. Yet, our last night together burned behind my eyes — and maybe, I eventually learned, that was one of the things people were trying to get back to with these tributes. We had listened to the music of his youth, retold graffiti jokes we saw on the bathroom walls.

He stayed longer than he should’ve. So, I figured myself into the accident. But I couldn’t bring myself to his grave. Things continued in this way. Most days, I framed the whole thing in how it related to me. This was, you know, my daddy. And he is gone. No way I was going back to Shreveport.

Then, one day, I did. It was as simple as the seas under the moon.

I was in town for something or another, had had a stiff drink, was with a buddy who knew nothing of my father or my hometown. He stayed behind the wheel, headlights striping the rows of stones, as I looked. Then, finally, I stumbled upon it: Jimmy, born the same day as George Harrison. Gone before the first Bush became president. It wasn’t anything like the surprisingly touching tributes from the Greiner book. Just a Spartan, lonely inscription.

Still, there was Dustin’s tree and a bench. Another five years passed before I could bring myself to return, and I sat there again — this time with the woman who would become my wife. She’d weaved with me through the maze of plaques — no whiskey courage, this time — and even followed as I discovered my maternal grandmother’s grave in a separate plot. Older, happier, I was reminded of my own place in things: My mother’s maiden name, where my first name originates. I share my dad’s mom’s middle name, Rey, also spelled with an e.

So, I slipped my fingers under the lip of a flower vase — initially at my Dad’s, and then at my grandmother’s grave — then lifted it up from the headstone. I hadn’t even known they were there. I looked around, at first. Nearby, people had left their own mementos, ringing tributes to loves and lives lost — the small and good things that make a memory.

All at once, I found a way to share in that reverie. Further out was Shreveport’s Mansfield Road. It occurred to me that if you travel up and down in front of my father’s cemetery, you’d find Joy Cinema 6, where I’d snuck out of “Stroker Ace” to neck; there’d be the Walgreen’s where I got my first job; and the Hot Wheels skating rink, where I learned to go backward to “Rapper’s Delight.”

My father remained in the middle of everything that had happened to me.

Greiner’s book brings a similar kind of specificity to grieving. I was reminded again that there is a lot more than simple memory in these places. Each site is such a co-mingling of that which is lost — tubing on the Guadaloupe, the time we rebuilt the Volkswagen, that picture of us in his locker at work — with something much bigger than the bodies: Our own every day recognition of what these people still mean to us.

On that long ago day, I realized, blinking quickly, that for the first time I wanted to buy some flowers for my father.

I’ve returned twice a year, sometimes more often, ever since.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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