I’m not proud of it, but I haven’t visited the now-disheveled cemetery on the hillside behind my late father’s childhood home in more than 40 years.
Willie Nelson was right when he mused, “Ain’t it funny how time slips away?”
When it comes to missed opportunities, I guess I’m a victim of my innate politeness. (“Hello, Mr. Nap. Stay a while. I promise to make you feel welcome.”)
As a lad, I was a budding history buff, but that country cemetery creeped me out. I didn’t realize the stone cairns atop the ground were an old Scots-Irish tradition. I always feared I was one clumsy stumble away from seeing EXPOSED SKELETONS. Times (and hormones) change. A few years later, I convinced myself that I was one clumsy stumble away from seeing exposed — well, never mind. This is a family newspaper.
But it’s hard to experience the annual pageantry of haunted houses, grinning jack-o’-lanterns and squealing trick-or-treaters without thinking of the eerie adventure my father experienced at that burial place as a boy.
Speaking from alleged experience, an older boy (Cousin? Neighbor? The details are lost to time, unfortunately) informed Dad that there was a specific tombstone that would yield a fascinating perspective on the Great Beyond — if some intrepid soul had the guts to perform the appropriate ritual.
All one had to do was dare to ascend the hill at midnight, touch the grave marker and ask, “What are you doing?” Cross his heart and hope to die, the older boy assured Dad that he would hear an answer of “Nothing.”
This was the golden era of man-on-the-street interviews, so I guess man-in-a-hole-six-feet-under interviews were just a logical extension.
Dad finally got a chance to test the claims. With the help of a coal oil lantern and the full moon, he cautiously ascended the hill, located the proper tombstone, nervously reached out a fingertip and meekly inquired, “What are you doing?”
Thinking he hadn’t made adequate skin contact, Dad summoned the sort of fortitude that would serve him well during Army bayonet practice years later, touched the monument more solidly and demanded, “What are you doing???”
Something was still wrong.
Thinking the third time would be the charm, Dad stretched out his arm, positioned his legs to spring back from spectral danger, cleared his throat — and paused.
Something finally clicked in his adolescent brain. He had followed the instructions to the letter and the occupant of the grave had indeed given him a reply of … nothing.
Yes, this is another sad story of intellectual property missteps by the Tyree family. If Dad had just thought to trademark “Well, DUH,” I would probably be typing this column on the Riviera now.
I’m not sure how Dad saved face the next time he encountered the prankster who started the ball rolling. I like to imagine him nonchalantly remarking, “My lawyer will permit me only to say that there was no quid pro quo. There was definitely no quid pro quo.”
I’m glad Dad could laugh at himself and share such embarrassing incidents with the family. I hope the different generations of your own family are preserving spooky stories about ghosts real or imagined.
If you’ve been napping in this regard, ask “Someday when I’m gone, what would my loved ones give to hear those stories?”
One word: Anything.
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.