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I Remember that Cold Day

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She looked down solemnly, the top of her head trembling slightly in the cold, and then looked up at me and her uncle. A few feet away her mother sobbed, but the girl didn’t look her way. She grasped her uncle’s fingers, then mine, and leaned forward a little, peering past the coffin into the hole. She said softly, “Are they gonna put my daddy down in all that water?”

Back then the funerals were always at the gravesite, on no good land that no one wanted for anything else, and it was always mean cold, heavy and wet. The coffin would sit heavy on the frame until it was time for the men to lower it down on ropes, time for the shovels to start. And where the water table was high there was often water in the bottom of the hole. You could see it down there, like digging a well.

What could I tell her? “Yeah, baby, but it’s OK because his spirit won’t mind. On resurrection day he’ll rise like the rest of us and until then he’s asleep.”

But she wasn’t convinced. The thought of her father in the cold dark water, covered over with clay and dirt, was unbearable. It was unbearable. So I leaned down and I whispered, “You just gotta hold on, baby. Hold on.” And her small hand clenched around my fingers as the ropes creaked.