My Father's Tree

I have no idea how I happened to find him. I'd never been there before, I just knew I would. I didn't even know what I looking for. Wherever he was though, I was sure he hadn't moved for forty-eight years. I didn't even know the name of the cemetery. Well, actually, I thought I knew at least that much.

He had been buried in the Detroit, Michigan Masonic cemetery in 1949. Problem was, as I found out, the Masonic cemetery was sold to a private concern many years ago. Somehow, it seems a ludicrous and heretic act to sell a cemetery to anyone, but then it is after all, America.

I had been called from my home in San Francisco to attend an all day meeting on Saturday in Detroit and was ticketed to return home late Sunday afternoon. I decided this was something I had to do. It never occurred to me that there would be no personnel working there on Sunday to help someone find a burial site which, of course, turned out to be the case. Fortunately, after a half dozen phone calls I was able to find a man at a funeral home that remembered the Masonic facility and knew to whom it had been sold and where I could find it.  

I drove around the perfectly manicured drive reading headstones as I went. I had arrived around 10:00 am and was the only one there which, for some unknown reason, I was very grateful for. The Detroit Red Wings had just won the Stanley Cup the night before and the town went mad, and I assumed that one should not expect visitations to the dearly departed in times of such momentous cultural importance.

I was just ten years old when he died and my family moved away from Detroit less than a year later. This was the first occasion I had found to be in Detroit in all those years. I drove my rental Plymouth around for almost twenty minutes. I got out once to get a feel for the place and noted that the earliest stones in that particular area were dated from 1965 to present. I figured I needed to find an older area and returned to the Plymouth.

I hadn't asked for a Plymouth at the rental agency but as I got in I recalled that my father had loved Plymouths. During my young life, until he died, we had owned two of these things. A black 1941 and a gray 1946. I recalled that the 1946 was purchased new for $695. I really have no idea why I remembered that. 

Well, I drove around for another ten minutes or so and suddenly just stopped along the edge of the gravel road. The monument stones were all shiny and well maintained and no part of the park looked older than any other. I just had a feeling. I walked to the passenger side of the Plymouth, up a slight incline about ten yards and stopped. There he was. A simple, flat brass plaque in the ground. It was covered with ingrown grass except for his first and middle names. I sat down and began to pull the tightly woven grass from the surface and exposed the full twelve inch by eighteen inch plate. Forty-eight years of patina had given a beautiful warmth to the simple finality of the metal marker. I noticed I was glad that it was not a large marble stone that might still look new and fresh. 

I spoke to him for a while, as most people speak to the memory of a lost loved one. I suddenly realized that this man, this enigma to a ten year-old boy, had been gone a year less than he had lived. I cried as much for his loss as I did for the waste. I do remember a few things about him. He was a good man. He loved his wife, his two children, his job, his country, his friends, his fishing. His passion was for life itself not the things in it. The summer he died I was spending the time at his sisters farm in Indiana. I did not get to go to his funeral to say goodby. By the time I returned home, mother, doing what she thought best, had removed all memory of him. I never saw her cry although she loved him more than life itself, and although a beautiful woman and only thirty-eight herself at the time, she never even considered dating another man for the rest of her life. It took me half a lifetime to learn to celebrate the grief of his loss but eventually I did. Over those years I had gotten to know him pretty well. Some of that knowing was experience, some stories from others, a lot was fantasy but it didn't really matter. I had my story and that was that. 

I miss my father most, of course, around Fathers Day. At some level I always miss my father, yet because of this visit, it will now be different than it has ever been. There is a tree next to his grave that could not have been more than a seedling when they first met. The tree has given him shade which I am sure he would have enjoyed as no one else could. Somehow, I am also sure, he has nourished that tree in return. I wished him Happy Fathers Day and talked to him about his grandchildren and all kinds of things that I thought he might like to know.

And I showed him the new Plymouth, but I didn't tell him it cost $20,000 now. 

So, maybe in another time/space/life I'll see him again, right there, where somehow I knew he would be. A little brass plaque in the ground, between the marble monoliths of Bowers, Chappin/Welsh and Cook, McIntosh, Anderson and Guy...guarding his tree.

© 2008, Kenneth F. Byers

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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