“It is a good and holy thing to think of the dead rising again.”
“I never saw color as this year; the trees are like lamps, with the light coming from within.” So thought Cleotha Powers - in Paul Horgan’s story “The Peach Stone” - about the passing of peach orchards as she along with her husband began the long drive from their ranch amid the tumbleweed of New Mexico to transport the body of their two year old daughter (contained in a sandpapered wooden box) to the family burial plot in Cleotha’s girlhood town of Weed. The orchards reminded her also of how as a girl she used to catch up the peach petals by the handful, crush them and wrap them in a handkerchief to place in her bosom so that she might smell like peach blossoms – and of how her girlfriends used to say that if you held a peach stone in your hand long enough, it would sprout. But then no one wanted to hold a peach stone that long to find out and so they would laugh about it. But Cleotha believed the saying – and she especially believed it now in her bereavement.
Indeed, ever since she woke up that morning a spell had come over her. She had done all her weeping the night before. And now she never wanted to merely look at anything anymore; she wanted to see, to watch for any signals of something grand and eternal within the ordinary contours of reality – so much so that instead of relaxing for the journey ahead she felt herself leaning forward in the back seat – reaching with her eyes beyond the windshield - singling out things like this unusual beauty of the peach orchard. Or look - that dead tree! But still there’s that little swarm of green leaves on its top branch. And what’s that dazzling light on the road – like a ball of diamond light which danced and quivered so far ahead? Could it be a daytime star, sent to guide them? That it might only be sunlight reflected off the metal of an oil truck made no sense to her because, as I have said, Cleotha was trying to see! She wanted to catch a glimpse of where her daughter, whose inert form lay beside her, had gone.
And hasn’t that been the question that has preoccupied us ever since the dawn of our species? Our appetite for life and love, our insatiable curiosity bridles at the thought of our being ultimately and forever confined within a space of six feet by two. We want to know! And it was this need to know that now possessed Cleotha. Or to put it theologically, she was operating now out of faith and hope – that pair of eyes with which sorrow and love endows us. And so the most consoling thing she finally saw, once she and her relatives and friends knelt by the burial plot halfway up Schoolhouse Hill, was a boy coming down the hill from the school. He was framed in sunlight and she couldn’t help but notice his wonder at the people kneeling mournfully around a grave. So innocent of death, discretely coming down the hill shying away from the mystery and yet large eyed with a hunger to know in ways his schoolhouse will not teach him. And Cleotha found in his respectful curiosity confirmation of her own and all humanity’s need to know, to envision that “undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveler returns” that she cried out, “I believe, I believe” and she said it “as if she were holding the peach stone of her eager childhood in her woman’s hand.”
I’ve been holding a peach stone in my closed fist for 18 years now. And I’ve been leaning forward, not just looking but trying to see amid the unfolding wonders of Autumn signals of an even greater glory to come – somewhere beyond the windshield of my mind. And what I’m precisely looking for is the gradually unfolding presence of the son I knew, who I hope has had the patience to wait for me upon whatever path he has been traveling since his death, so that together we may continue what – so many years ago – was just beginning to be fun.