Carved in Stone

Sometimes you just need a witness and that’s why I dragged my husband to revisit the cemetery across from the house where we were staying in New Canaan. It had been raining for days, spirits were soggy, and nobody trusted the wan sunlight, not even Willie, the amicable terrier we were caring for while our friends were away.

“I promise it will just take a minute.”

“Your minutes always take hours.”

There was grumbling and lengthy shoe lacing. Discussions about whether or not to take an umbrella degenerated into who should carry the tissues, since only one of us had pockets.

“Isn’t this great?”

The question, which is really a statement, never convinced my children they were having a good time on field trips when they were small and it certainly hasn’t had its desired effect on my husband. Why I keep asking is a legitimate issue since prisoners are prisoners. It has been pointed out any number of times that I shouldn’t expect smiles on top of enforced exercise and what is supposed to be fresh air.

“What stinks?” asked my husband.

“Hold your nose. It only lasts a second.”

The lushly landscaped cemetery is home to geese as well as to the departed. I had forgotten to warn him about the air quality surrounding the charming bridge and gently burbling stream. We trudged on and as we did I chattered about Rebecca, du Maurier’s classic, and how menacing the blood-red rhododendrons were at Manderley. Weren’t we lucky to be enjoying them in such a nice setting?

“We’re in a graveyard,” my husband pointed out, stopping to mop his brow. “How much farther?”

The tombstone I was looking for was modest as tombstones go and I couldn’t remember whether it was light or dark gray, a detail that wouldn’t have been helpful anyway. There was no foot traffic in the graveyard and empty lanes twisted and turned at random. No dogs were allowed in the cemetery and it seemed as though no visitors were allowed inside either. I could hear cars on either side, but the sounds were nearly cushioned by the silence.

“She’s around here somewhere.”

“She who?”

“I’ll know when I find her.”

Goslings swam to our side of the pond and toddled toward us once they hit land. It was the week before Memorial Day and flags were flying everywhere. The strange hieroglyphic I was searching for seemed impossible to find again and I had just about given up hope when I spotted a purple whirligig on a modest slope that would never be a hill.

“Here she is!” I said, shading my eyes, even though the sun was momentarily hidden behind a huge thunderhead. “Dorothy Ettinger Miller.”

“Wow, you were right,” my husband said. “That engraving does look like a TV.”

The image of an old-fashioned set with rabbit ears made us both smile. There were three stones placed with care over the words Carpe Diem. Standing at Dorothy Ettinger Miller’s grave was oddly intimate and I found myself missing someone I had never known.

A black Mercedes station wagon pulled up right then. It was so quiet that I couldn’t tell whether the engine was running. The windows were tinted. This was the first car I had seen in several visits to the graveyard and during the minute or so that passed, I prepared my statement for what was clearly a fancy security service that barred this peculiar form of tourism. But a woman roughly my age hopped out of the Mercedes instead. She was not wearing a uniform.

“Does that grave interest you?”

I thought of Brian Williams, a familiar figure in town, and asked whether the deceased had been an early broadcast journalist.

“Oh, no,” the woman laughed. “She just loved watching TV.”

Dorothy Ettinger Miller’s daughter was as eager to share the story of a lifelong passion for television as we were to hear it. Her mother insisted in sleeping in the same room with a television set, even when it inconvenienced the son whose home she visited in Rhode Island. Did Dorothy have a favorite show? Not really, her daughter said.

“She was crazy about them all. My mom was a real character.”

She pulled up a few weeds at the top of the grave and told me daisies were her mother’s favorite flower. Cancer had taken her early.

“The whole family’s here,” she said, indicating the row of stones flanking her mother’s grave.

Dorothy Ettinger Miller’s daughter never gave me her first name, not that she needed to. Today, on this day of remembrance, I’m going to honor her mother, a woman I never knew, and stretch out in front of the tube.