I have a kitten, found alone and cold, tiny and helpless, just a few feet from the cemetary where I walk my dogs. Of course I took the baby, snuggled him into my sweatshirt, picked up kitten formula at my local feed store and took him home to join my hairy tribe. At first I jokingly said, "Hugo (my beloved Pit-mix) thinks I should name him Snack." And so that was his name for the first week or two while I waited for a more appropriate name to present itself. The name should have been obvious, "Homer," after my great-grandfather who is buried in that cemetary, and who I have always thought has kept an eye on the family over the years. Homer the kitten is adorable, as are all kittens. He is black as coal, green-eyed and a bundle of hilarity with a zest for life and fun.
But who is The Real Homer? Homer Clyde Lemons, father of my dear grandma Pearl. Grampa raised sheep, dairy cattle and hops. He lived in a farmhouse several miles from town, with an oak grove, creek and pond full of tadpoles, and a giant barn with a rope swing in the hay loft. I remember summer days at Grampa's, chasing lambs, catching frogs and tadpoles, swinging into stickery mounds of hay, trying to catch the skittish barn kittens, eating blackberries warm from the sun, and having Grampa feed us farmhand sized meals replete with vast quantities of milk (he was a dairy man after all).
Homer Lemons loved children and babies. He was just about the perfect Grampa, with a goofy sense of humor and plenty of time to explain things to his grandkids. One of my few regrets is that I did not stop by to see him the last time I was in his neck of the woods a few months before he died. That was 33 years ago, and I still regret it.
Homer did cool things in his younger days; broke horses, traveled the country working, in Idaho he met and eloped with the "spinster schoolmarm," my Grandma Sadie (who died when I was only 2, so sadly she is just a sweet face in old photos). In the 30's, during the depths of the Great Depression, Homer brought his family out to the Willamette Valley, to the small farming community of Canby. He had his eye on a farm, one that wasn't available, yet. So Homer moved his family into a building nearby that had in essence been a chicken coop at one point. This is one of the staples of our Family Lore: Grampa and the Chicken Coop. It wasn't an ideal home for a family of five, but it kept the weather off while Homer and Sadie worked to buy the dream farm. And they did. A beautiful piece of fertile land on the Gribble prairie with the aforementioned house, barn, creek and oak grove. He grew hops, hiring itinerant workers during the harvest, housing them in an outbuilding, and Grandma cooked meals over a woodstove set out in the yard. The Hop House blew off of it's foundation during the Columbus Day Storm of 1960, and slowly settled into the earth so that by the time I was old enough to go exploring, the doorway was only about three feet high, which made the vast building seem mysterious and extra spooky.
In his later years, Homer led an active life, being a favorite dance partner at the monthy Grange Hall dances, and had several "lady friends" over the years (long after Grandma died, of course). It was only in his last few years that he seemed to slow down, finally dying peacefully at the respectable age of 90.
I hadn't known where Grampa was buried until just a few months ago, and coincidently, it is the very same cemetary that I have been walking my dogs in for the last 8 months or so. I had passed his gravestone hundreds of times before my Mom and I searched and found it back in September. Since then, I have stopped and talked to Grampa on a pretty regular basis. Especially since the last three months have been excessively stressful for me. In a short period of time I have ended a decade long relationship, been passed over for several jobs I was sure I was going to get (after protracted interview and hiring procedures), and I've decided to buy a house (though I can barely afford my rent, my job security is non-existant, and flying solo is a struggle at best). So, needless to say, my stressload has been a bit overbearing at times (okay, most of the time).
I have found that stopping and talking with Grampa is soothing, and helps me leave my burdens behind for a brief interlude. And one real beauty of a cemetary is that if someone were to see me kneeling at Grampa's grave, brushing leaves from his headstone, sobbing uncontrollably and and rambling incoherently about my troubles, fears, lonliness and feelings of failure, no one would dare interfere. A cemetary is a place that welcomes grief, accepts lonliness, honors tears, and politely looks the other way when faced with hysterics and sobbing.
I admit, this behavior has become more frequent and common as the days march by towards winter and I feel I am not much closer to my dreams, or even peace. This week, I was on my knees in the near-frozen, damp turf pretending to brush away fallen leaves, so if anyone were to see they would not take a second look (granted the only living presence in the cemetary were me and my two dogs). I sobbed so hard I could barely catch my breath as I told Grampa of my failures and struggles, feelings of persecution and rejection, and a near desperate lonliness born of too many burdens and no one to share the load. Yes it was self pity, but somewhat justified. Grampa listened quietly (if he had done anything else, I'm sure the shock and terror would have banished any self pity), and I was reminded of Grampa and The Chicken Coop. I told myself that if he had the patience to live in a former chicken domicile while awaiting his dream, I could wait in the relative comfort and solitude of my current situation. Granted, Grampa had his sweet Sadie at his side, but those were uncertain times and they were going way out on a limb to make their dream a reality. So, as I inch further and further out onto the limb that is my current life, waiting to hear the creaking of it preparing to snap under my weight, I will keep reminding myself that I could be living in a Chicken Coop.
Now I have a little, black cat named after a good man. A little, black cat that I am seeing as my lucky charm for reminding me every day of my truely great Grampa. Thank you Grampa Homer, for your kind and gentle nature, your good humor, love of life, and for passing along strong genes and a mental fortitude that will save me. And thanks for The Chicken Coop