Sunday, March 21, 2010

Encounter with the Grave

Boy, that sounds dramatic.

A couple of weeks ago, my family journeyed down to the Ponca area to hike Lost Valley and meet up with our family.  Cousins trooped through the woods together, but because of a mild foot injury, I was pretty sure that a long hike over uneven terrain would prove painful for me.  I backed out of the hike and explored the valley a bit instead.

First, a stop at the Elk Center in Ponca, where I found the Ernsts' book on Arkansas hikes for kids and an Audubon stuffed animal replica of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (my favorite) with an authentic call that sounds when you press its back.  Yay!

Next, I drove through the valley, stopped for a bit to watch the elk herds and take a few (bad, long-distance) photos, then drove into the Boxley Valley Baptist church to get a better look at their historic building.  I'd read in Michael Dougherty's blog that restoration was badly needed, and boy is that ever the case.  It was a little heartbreaking to see the decay of one of Arkansas' historic landmarks.  If a restoration drive starts up, I think I'd like to help.

I decided to wander through the little graveyard at the church before I returned to Lost Valley to meet the crew.  I love old cemeteries.  People's stories fascinate me, and strolling through rows of old tombstones always gives me amazing glimpses of so many past lives (and ways of life).  I can't quite explain why, but I find it somehow centering.

So, I'm wandering through the tombstones, noting various family names from the area, when I spot one from a couple of rows away that literally sends a little jolt through me.  "PERME," reads a large and fairly recent stone.  Several around it say Perme as well.  I approach, and confirm what I can hardly believe:  I've stumbled upon the graves of Elizabeth and Joe Perme, the second owners of our home.

I only have a sketch of the Permes in my head, gleaned from what their daughters told us as we bought the house:  Joe was a World War II veteran, a Navy carpenter who was practical, resourceful, and perhaps a bit muleheaded.  He worked for the Buffalo River National Park, I believe as a maintenance supervisor.  Our home is full of his creative enhancements:  he added closets, shelves, workbenches, shelves, kitchen cabinets.  He also notched out a beam so that he wouldn't bash his head, added a chin-up bar in the basement, curved the corner of the bottom basement step so that you couldn't bruise your shin on it as you carry laundry up and down.  He once took advantage of his wife's absence to cut a hole in our kitchen/dining room wall so that he could reach through to get the phone-- although the doorway's only about six inches to the left of the hole. (His wife, they say, was livid.)  I think of him fondly as I move through our house, seeing how much love and time he obviously poured into it.

Elizabeth was his wartime wife, a German woman who was a tidy housekeeper.  Her stove, an old gas Kenmore from the 1960s or so, was in meticulous condition when we moved in (sadly, we are messier cooks then she).  They were thrifty people.  Their carpet was over 40 years old; their bathroom sink had been cracked on its installation in the 1980s and was never replaced, but still holds water perfectly due to their patching.  I know that they lost their only son while living here; he was killed in a motorcycle accident in Ponca, going to visit his newly married twin sister.  I've found a little ceramic baseball mitt and an old plastic squirtgun in the basement, and thought of the pain they must have experienced together in this house.

My affection for them (and the Wilsons, the house's first owners) is rather ardent.  So finding their resting place was a bit like seeing a ghost, or a flash of deja vu... a bit spooky, a bit startling.

After I got past my surprise, I took a moment and thanked them for their house, the love they had for it and for their family, and how much I feel blessed to be living in their home of over 40 years.

It was a lovely conclusion to my little solo excursion.  

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