robert

The drone of the lawnmower soothed my ears. The birds’ incessant chirping awakened my joy. Life was slowly returning. The neighbors and I have planted a small garden in the no man’s zone between us.

The line of demarcation is marked by the sentinel of towering cedar and newly-planted hostas. Just beyond is a badminton net where the neighbor and his son wage daily battle.

My wife and I are still sleepy from a late-night game of “spoons.” We learned the game from our 15-year-old daughter, who, in turn, learned the game at summer church camp. We have held board game tournaments now for three consecutive nights.

One has to be quick on the draw and constantly focused to be victorious in this game of spoons. A metaphor for life, I surmise, in this ever-changing, fast-paced world. Grab victory when you can. Snatch it from the clutches of despair and defeat.

As with the setting of the sun behind the tall trees, the chill twilight has now settled once again over the darkening landscape.

The death toll from the pandemic waxed and waned again today, the evening news informs my ears from the living room. I turn my attention towards the darkening woods again. The murmur of traffic still hums from the distant interstate. 

The caw-caw-caw of the rain crows stir from the shrouded tops of elms and oaks. There is a curtain of green that separates us from our distant neighbors to the west. An owl hoots from somewhere deep and mysterious.

The rain has subsided for now. I scan the purpling sky for signs of storm clouds. 

Tonight is the last night we will ring the old church bell for now. We have rung it for two weeks straight, rain or shine. Even as heat lightning danced on the far-away river. 

We have gathered, more or less the same faithful five church members who have shown up each night. As a pastor, I have rung the bell and then each one has taken their turn. We share smiles, waves, virtual hugs and high-fives with one another.

One of my church members, a sweet woman named Miss Rosa has passed treats and goodies along onto our family via a cellophane baggie. The next night I was presented with a cherished old family recipe. I watch as one by one, each departs for his or her vehicle. Every now and then, a church member will venture out into the sprawling cemetery that spreads out over several acres.

Within the gates of the cemetery lie two Russian princesses, the infant daughter of a famed Confederate brigadier general, a Civil War private and popular newspaper columnist whose life spanned the 19th and early 20th centuries, the matriarch of our county’s historical museum and her husband, a founding mayor.

There are others as well, including railroad men, doctors, deputy sheriffs and constables, saints and sinners all. For they are not only those men, women, and children who people these sacred, hallow grounds but people whose souls and spirits walk the streets of heaven.

The row of tombstones stretches out nearly as far as the eye can see, to a line of magnolias and cedars, forming a demarcation line of its own, between the land of the living and the land of the dead.

The other evening a car pulled into the gates of the cemetery and then came to a stop, its occupants pausing just to hear the tolling of the bell.

As I write in this journal, I glance up to notice that the clock on the wall has stopped. Time to change the battery.

I will wait and purchase a new one later. Maybe I will order it online. The wait in the pick-up line at the supermarket is long. So are the lines for food orders at local restaurants. The upshot from the pandemic is that our family is enjoying good, tasty home-cooked meals, and more importantly, precious family time together. We are actually gathered in one spot each night, instead of being scattered to various destinations — cheerleading practice, seminary classes, errand-running after work.

Each of us can’t wait to come home. I suppose it is indeed a good thing that we enjoy each other’s company.

Despite the fact that as a father and husband I have now gone two days without shaving. I have been needing a haircut for two months. The dog’s toenails need clipping. Our sleeping cycles have been up-ended.

Just today, I called an old friend with whom I had not spoken to in six months. I phoned my 92-year-old father just to hear his reassuring voice — that same velvety, sonorous baritone voice that used to help me sleep when I was a boy by whispering in my ear … “Close your eyes now and count … a white sheep and a black sheep … a white sheep and a black sheep …”

I do indeed close my eyes. I close my eyes to pray. I close my eyes to take that journey back in time when there was no such thing as social distancing. I could crawl up safely and snugly into my grandmother’s lap, press against my father’s grizzled cheek, and in my later years, nuzzle into the nape of my sweet wife’s perfumed neck.

Yes, there will be a time and soon when we will all be together again. Maybe we needed this sensory deprivation to remind us what all we have lost. What we have been prompted to rediscover again.

For now, be well, stay strong and keep the faith.

Robert Lee Long is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.