How peculiar the small things one remembers from an important or somber occasion, years or decades later. Cecily had long reflected on this curiosity in the intervening years between her father Cecil’s funeral and now, at age twenty-three. She had been thirteen at the time, mindful enough of the goings-on around her, impelled forward by the fatigue that comes not only with grief but with the burden of duty, to be polite in the company of known and unfamiliar grownups; to get along nicely with her younger brother Andy, whose youth left him without any context for events still unfolding; and the obligation simply to be there for her mama, to hold her gloved hand in her own and somehow to absorb the weighty sadness all around her, as if so doing might take away some of her mama’s pain.
There had been more food inside the little cottage on the hill than Cecily had ever seen in her life on the days leading up to the funeral, and flowers, so many flowers. An endless parade of visitors had come and gone, leaving piles of notecards, letters of sympathy, and offers of condolences, “…anythang we can do to hep,” they’d all echoed, casting furtive glances at the two children. (It was hard to know how to console a grieving child.) Mrs. Chatham had even arranged for a store in town to deliver to Claudia a new dress, which arrived in one of two large, white boxes, and in the second another for Cecily, along with a handsome suit for Andy; the children had also been gifted new shoes and hats for the occasion, and gloves and a small pocketbook for Cecily.
Later on, though, these would not be the things Cecily remembered most about the day her father was laid to rest. It would be the seemingly inconsequential details: the expression of what, pity? Sorrow? on Mrs. Chatham’s face, and the wrinkles that came at the corners of her eyes when she finally smiled a little and patted the church pew next to her, beckoning Cecily to scoot in. And before that, the inside of the motorcar Mrs. Chatham had sent around to fetch Claudia Freeman and her two children, but not how it looked on the outside. All these years later she could recall the tiniest of details, the tufted upholstery in the car’s curvilinear back seat, and the individual stitches that held it in place, the distinctive sound the axle made as it spun underneath her feet. Cecily marveled at these as much as she reflected on the bitter irony that the first time she ever rode in a motorcar had been on the occasion of her father’s funeral.
But that she somehow had not the presence of mind on that day to recall now with absolute clarity what she supposed had really mattered, made her angry: the words the pastor bellowed from the pulpit to eulogize her father, for example, or the choir’s hymnody, and she could not reach back in time and retrieve them. Nor could she recall precisely how her father looked lying stiff inside the open casket at the front of the church, and so she chided herself for not lingering there a little longer that day, as if this one small exercise might have bestowed upon her a souvenir of the moment, like one of the little postcards she had fingered in a pile of correspondence on her mother’s dresser, with colorful pictures of far-off places on one side and postmarks on the other, proof positive the sender had been somewhere.
Now Cecily wished she could go somewhere, anywhere. She raised up a quiet supplication to the universe, in case anyone were listening, and in case she ever did go somewhere, to help her remember the important things when that day came, and not trivial details like car upholstery stitching.