Beneath the Willow Tree
by Summer Greigh Franz 

 
       The sky was gray, and the air was wet. The first light of the day was dimmed by the storm clouds rolling in closer and closer from the horizon. Annie Trotter ignored the distant rumble of thunder. She had to find her daughter.

        Annie had lost track of how many days she had been searching, but she knew the town had long since given up her little Mary Elizabeth for dead. Family and friends had stopped showing up to check on her. No one tried to convince her to go back home. She hadn't seen anyone from the town in a long time.

       Her Mary Elizabeth was the only person she wanted to see. Her daughter was a lively little girl, who would always come home covered head to toe in dirt. Her nice dresses never stayed nice for long. She had been 7 years, 5 months, and 16 days old when she vanished without a trace.

       They had been laying Annie's husband, Samuel Trotter, to rest when it happened. Mary Elizabeth hadn't yet been hit with the reality of her father's death. She was fidgety and distracted throughout the service.

       "Mommy," she had whispered loudly, tugging at Annie's best black dress, "look at that butterfly!"

       "Shh." Annie berated her harshly through her tears.

       "It's telling me to follow it!" Mary Elizabeth's excitement caused her to raise her voice. Annie had only sobbed harder, aware of the displeased looks being shot at her daughter for her insensitivity.

       If Annie had known then that would be the last time she saw her little girl - her pretty auburn pigtails, her chubby pink cheeks, her deep, dark brown eyes that were always wide with wonder - she would've paid a lot more attention to when and in which direction she ran off after the butterfly.       

       Annie had felt her whole world crumble that day - her small family snatched from her without a thought - and she hadn't been able to leave the cemetery since.

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Stone Angel.jpg
Stand Watch
by Thomas Franz
 

Stand watch, stand watch my strong stone angel

Stand watch over all who here lay

Beneath the boughs of weeping beech

At rest, we hope, from all trouble and labour 

Winding path through time and seasons

Watch for the souls of father, mother, daughter

Time has taken and toll full paid

Our love now in the hands of the Almighty

 

Amongst the great, and names remembered 

Amongst the small, some without even a stone

Be at peace, Fanny and baby

Be at peace, for she guards you well

Faithful and loved, the wife and her husband

Children named and lain close

Whispered in the leaves and echoes around

So lieth here both ye old and young

 

Stand watch, stand watch, my stoic stone angel

Stand watch as the sun goes low

As the leaves once touching heavens

Drift back to the earth below

One last burst, into feuille morte 

Then released from life’s momentary hold

Drifting down on gentle breeze

Or torn by brutal gust

 

Stand watch, stand watch, my silent stone angel

Stand watch as the snow lightly falls

No sound, no sound, but the footsteps’ crunch

Guard those who will not feel winter’s cold

Short and brutish but filled with wonder

Now deaf to all but the trumpet’s sound

Side by side under her constant gaze

There is none to haunt you now

 

Stand watch, stand watch, my still stone angel

Stand watch as life returns

As crooked and bent, the branches bud

As bulb pushes up to flower

Look forward, look forward, Truslow and Newberry 

To angel’s lips pressing embouchure

The call to rise, and tears wiped away

Look forward to our embrace

       Weary to her very bones, she wondered between the weathered headstones - all in various states of corrosion. Some graves were new and shiny, cut with sharp angels, the inscriptions on them standing out clearly in the smooth stone. Others had been beaten down by the elements for so long, they looked like vague lumps of stone with the names wiped clean off.

       Annie passed by grand graves, adorned beautifully with statues and intricate carvings. Behind them stood small plain stones with nothing but initials to indicate who was buried underneath.

       In her mind, Annie knew that her Mary Elizabeth was not here. If she had been taken, her captors would have carried her far from their small town. If she had been injured, she could very well be dead in a ditch and living comfortably in the next plane with Annie's Sam. If she had been spirited away... there would be no trace at all. But Annie couldn't leave. This was where she had lost her baby, so this was where she would look. Forever if she had to.

       As she neared the cemetery entrance, Annie noticed a lone, old woman enter beneath the stone arch. She felt familiar, but Annie knew she'd never seen her face before. The woman was hunched over a sturdy - if plain - walking stick and had a heavy sack thrown over her shoulder. She took no notice of Annie.

       No one did, really.

       Annie thought people must pity her too much to look her in the eye anymore. What a sight I must look, she often thought to herself. She had to be the official town crazy lady by now. The type of woman she would've told Mary Elizabeth to "pay no mind".

       Annie continued her woeful drift, but always strayed within sight of the old woman. Something about her called out to Annie. She walked slowly, but with purpose, deep into the grounds. The deeper they went, the older the graves became. The trees here were thicker - their trunks too wide to circle her arms around them. Their branches and roots twisted and stretched in every direction. The trunks were covered in large knots that almost looked like faces... watching Annie.

       Finally, the old woman stood before a great weeping willow. The base of the tree was obscured by its curtain of drooping branches that spread out around it, leaving no gaps through which to see. The woman pushed the leaves aside and entered like it was her second home. Ignoring the thought that she was intruding on a private moment, Annie followed her.

       The sun, dim as it was, peaked in from the top of the willow even as the leaves blocked out the rest of the world. The old woman knelt before a solitary grave resting against the gnarled base of the trunk. Carefully, the old woman took the sack from off her shoulders and opened it. From within, she pulled out an array of tools.

       With practiced hands, the old woman began to restore the weathered grave to a more respectable image. She smoothed out the face and the edges quickly, and then took her time re-carving out the ancient inscription. When she was done, she sat back on her haunches, inspecting her work. Satisfied, she stood and left... Never once sparing Annie a glance.

       Hesitantly, Annie approached the grave, realization dawning on her as she got closer, until she was near enough to rest her hand on the top of it and read:

       "In loving memory of little Mary Elizabeth, whose body was never recovered,

And her mother, Annie Trotter, who never stopped looking."

Afternoon Reminiscence
by Grandmother Barbara Herbst

 

Here I sit in my absolute most favorite place in the world.  The wind is tickling the tree tops and drifting down through the leaves.  The birds are commenting in high chirps.  Everywhere is green and beautiful.  I am surrounded by friends, all the people I have known in life and all those who preceded me and of course my family.

 

Well, I’ve seen them all come and go.  The upper crust and the average normal person.  Life is like that.  It’s full of all kinds of people who go through all kinds of ups and downs.  I myself went through plenty of ups and downs, in fact, you might say that I went through more downs than I did ups.

 

As I gaze around me, I remember that there are some people here like that fellow Edmond Blake.  He was such a snob because he felt he was a blue blood instead of a common man like the rest of us Americans.  Blake did trace his lineage all the way back to the founding of Rhode Island and even back to his distant ancestor who received subsidies from King Edward the first in the 1200s.  But, having big important ancestors doesn’t make you big and import too.   You’re just a creature like the rest of us.  

 

I shouldn’t fester about these people because each one was a soul and each one had his trials, like that De Wolfe woman whose gravestone is surrounded with little stones for each of her dead babies.  Her sorrow must have been boundless.

 

Of course, you cannot ignore her husband.  He’s the one with the biggest monument in the whole place.  You certainly have to take into account what a person did with his life.  That De Wolfe family got all their money and that big mansion right off the backs of slaves that they dragged over from Africa and sold like they were pieces of wood.  When you consider that, well, they may not seem like such grand people after all.

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But I mustn’t upset myself while I’m sitting in my favorite spot.  I should just soak in the beauty and calm, and if I have to delve into people’s lives I should think on people like the Colt family that takes up such a large portion of this cemetery.  They were tremendously wealthy and had a big property and house.  Just think of that grand bank-like marble place he built for his mother to ramble around in.  Underneath all that wealth, you might say despite all that wealth, Colt had a real heart in him.  You can tell by a person’s actions at the end.  Colt opened his huge, beautiful property to the people of this town to wander around, picnic in, and enjoy at sunset.  That gesture will live for as long as there are people to soak in the beauty of the place.

 

Sort of like this cemetery here.  It is an arboretum, you know.  Filled with the most beautiful, stately, and exotic trees from all over the world.  The fellows that built this place went to a lot of trouble to make it like this.  Like paradise.  

 

I suppose, though, that some people wanted to be buried here because they think it gives them a special gate into God’s Paradise.  

 

Oh, there I go again.  Wandering off into my antagonistic thoughts.  Well, I guess it’s getting time for me to get back.  I should go before the rowdy sorts start spooking around after dark.  

 

With that, the old man with his bushy mutton chop sideburns, reached up with his ink-stained hands to adjust his green eyeshade.  He was perched on a large headstone.  He jumped off on to a tuft of grass.  Straightening his bent old back, he slipped like a whisp of smoke into the slab of granite, the one with the leaves of a book etched in the corners and that read, 

 

August Oliver Peabody

Born in Bristol RI March 12, 1825

Died in Bristol RI April 30, 1905

Editor Bristol Phoenix – 1839-1869