Friday, January 6, 2012

Write On Edge: Epitaph Challenge

in Red Writing Hood gave us 500 words surrounding an epitaph. My favorite has always been one found at Knott's Berry Farm: Here lies Lester Moore, 44 shots from a .44, No Less, No More. However, in doing a brief research of epitaphs on-line, I came across one that truly captured my imagination. Combining it with a fictional rendition loosely based on my family history was certainly a labor of love. I found 500 words, even though it was more than normal, truly difficult to stick to.

For this week's response, I give you Stone Advice

The late winter sun started its trek west slightly later than previous weeks. Jane wiped her brow and glanced up at the sky to gauge the time she had remaining. Aubrey, her granddaughter, seemed distracted by the Chotawa pottery marking one of the grave-sites. “Don’t touch those,” Jane warned her. “It’s rude.”

A puzzled look descended upon Aubrey’s heart-shaped face. “I just wanted to look at them,” she reasoned.

Sighing, Jane tossed the last handful of yellowing weeds into her trash bag and rose carefully from her knees, mindful of the catch that had settled in her back over the last decade. “I’ve told you about the Chotawa in this cemetery. They don’t use headstones. You need to be respectful of their traditions.”

Aubrey was crestfallen. Jane smiled privately, remembering her daughter at that age, savoring the recollection of scraped elbows and sprained ankles. “Let’s break, eh? Grab the basket, please, and we’ll set up next to Thomas Murphy.”

She scampered to the car as only a seven-year-old could do. Where did my time go? Jane wondered, watching the exuberance bounce happily to and fro. I once raced butterflies and danced with falling rain. She turned to the large oak where a solitary grave lay facing the eastern horizon with the slow, measured steps of her sixty years, rubbing at the dull ache of her hands absently. “Well, Mr. Thomas Murphy, we meet again,” she said to the headstone.

Aubrey sprinted back. Together, they unfurled the quilt and pulled the sandwich fixings from the basket. For the granddaughter, there was German bologna and yellow mustard and pickles. Jane chuckled as the girl smashed her potato chips into the sandwich, while she delicately placed the slice of pimento loaf into its bread jacket. “Gramma, that stuff is so gross,” Aubrey made a face.

“Your mother thinks so too, but this was a delicacy for me when I was your age. We were so poor, I didn’t always have shoes, and this tasted like heaven.”

“Why Thomas Murphy?” Aubrey asked unexpectedly. “Are we related?”

“No, but I think this is the most peaceful location a person could have.” Jane reread the stone for the millionth time. “Besides, he always gives the best advice.”

“Thomas Murphy,” Aubrey read aloud. “Why does the headstone say ‘Shh’?”

“His epitaph is telling us to listen,” Jane replied. “He’s telling us a secret.”


They finished their snack in silence. The wind picked up and the birds gossiped in the branches of the tree. The scent of earth still fresh in their nostrils spoke of the frozen soil and brittle grass of winter. A sense of pride flooded her soul as Jane surveyed the kingdom of the departed, at the graves she’s been cleaning since she was Aubrey’s age. Worried that her city-raised granddaughter might be bored, she asked, “Shall we call it a day?”

“No, not yet. I’m still trying to hear the secret,” she replied, her little brow furrowed in concentration.


  1. Very captivating! You paint a beautiful picture.

  2. What a great story, I would like to be that kind of grandma. You don't see folks spend that much time in cemetaries anymore. I especially love old ones.

  3. I love the image of the little girl concentrating on the silence. Lovely.

  4. You have done an excellent job of bringing this whole scenario to life, Shelton. I could see, smell, hear and feel (thank you, I'm glad I didn't have to taste the pimento loaf :) ) Even in only 500 words, you present characterization that makes these people real. I was thrilled that you chose "Thomas Murphy". I have a good friend by that name and that headstone would be a perfect fit for him! Amazing.

  5. Niiiccce! I could see them sitting there, and the grandmother's thought 'I once raced butterflies and danced with falling rain' is truly graceful.

  6. Oh nice! I really really enjoyed how you ended. so sweet.

  7. I absolutely love this! The focus on cemeteries is almost always on sadness and fear. You turned this around and showed there is peace, and contentment there as well.