The bribe was a scoop of Cherries Jubilee ice cream in a sugar cone. I would not visit my grandparents’ grave with my father without the promise of ice cream. As a child, I could be stubborn, though easily assuaged with a sweet treat.
The journey from our house to the cemetery was long and wearisome. We had to take two buses and then had a long walk to the graveyard. My father always walked quickly but I tried to dawdle as much as possible. It wasn’t as if my grandparents were going anywhere. What was the hurry? Who rushes to the bone-yard anyway?
Mission City Memorial Park is situated next to a retirement home, which I guess is practical on one hand and kind of mean on the other. Does anyone want to live out their final days gazing on where they’re going to be for all eternity? Perhaps they feel comforted knowing exactly where they are going to be after they pass away. I’ll just be on the other side of the fence, under that elm tree, if anyone needs me.
My father often times went to the cemetery by himself. Even after his parents’ deaths, he was a dutiful son. He usually brought flowers from our garden: daisies, snapdragons and roses. All the flowers were carefully wrapped with a bit of tin foil at the stems.
The cemetery was large and it involved walking over graves for us to get to the final resting places of my grandparents. They were located in one of the inner quadrants from the road. My shoes squished on the always wet grass. No matter how hot the sun shone, it never seemed to dry the grass. I was so concerned with my sopping shoes that I didn’t pay attention to where my Omie and Opie were located. I just followed my father and trusted him that he would lead us to the right plots.
After carefully placing the flowers in the carved-out hole in the granite headstone, my father would gaze for a moment upon the double grave. Perhaps he was praying or just taking a moment of remembrance but I never knew exactly what it was he was doing.
After a few minutes, my father would take my hand and lead me out of the cemetery and back onto Winchester Blvd. We would walk the opposite direction from the Winchester Mystery House to a small ice cream store, a few blocks away. I was happy to leave the cemetery and happy that we weren’t walking in front of the Winchester House, which felt like walking in front of my own grave. The House didn’t need to do anything and was still spookier than the cemetery. I was so happy when we finally got to the ice cream shop.
After trying small spoonfuls of something exotic like chocolate walnut or Caramel Praline ice cream, I would choose either Cherries Jubilee or Pistachio for my cone. My father would always get a scoop of Rocky Road in a cup.
I can’t imagine my father walking down the street eating anything, let alone something drippy and sticky, so we must have sat down in front of the shop and had our treat. When we were finished with our cold delights and cleaned our hands and faces with the small, thin paper napkins provided, we'd make our way back to the bus-stop.
Years later when my father was interned in the Garden Mausoleum at Mission Cemetery, I went looking for my grandparents graves. I searched for over an hour but had no luck.
Fortunately it was a weekday and the office staff of the cemetery was at work. I inquired if they could tell me where the graves of George and Margaret Schoenwald were located? After checking their files, they could find no record of them being buried at Mission Cemetery at all. I knew I had visited them there many times with my father and I asked the secretary to please check again but still she had no luck. I could tell she was getting a little frustrated by my requests.
As I was leaving, I remembered that my grandparents had spelled Schoenwald differently than my father had and I ventured back into the office and asked the cemetery secretary to check for “Shonwald.” She found the index card with their location information and wrote it down on a map of the cemetery for me.
I was able to find my grandparents’ grave and spent a few moments gazing on their headstone as my father had done so many years before.
Although I still visit from time to time, I know I will be in residence there some day. There is a space for me in my father’s niche. I guess it is comforting after all, to know where I’ll be for all eternity, along side my father. I hope there’s ice cream in the after- life.