by Larry Brody
“What do you think, Larry B? Mighty fine location, wouldn’t you say?”
The Old Billionaire and I were at a cemetery just outside Fayetteville, looking at his family crypt.
He’s been thinking a lot about death lately, he told me, “because I don’t seem to be much good at thinking about life anymore. Sometimes I feel like I’m remembering everything backwards.”
His memory on this sunny day was right on target, as far as I could tell.
“I was never a big fan of mausoleums,” the O.B. said. “Remind me too much of those old horror movies. Thunder! Lightning! Vincent Price!
“But about 20 years ago,” he went on, “Nettie got on me about how we were well-to-do people and had an image to maintain, so I moved our folks, mine and hers, into this concrete monstrosity, and when I shuffle off I’ll be in there too. First drawer on the left. When it’s her time, Nettie’ll lie beside me on the right.”
“Nettie really said you had an image to uphold even after you were dead?” I said.
“Well, I think it was Nettie. Might’ve been my son the Harvard Genius. Sounds more like him, doesn’t it?”
“Sounds more like the way people would think in Hollywood than the Ozarks,” I said.
“Hollywood, Harvard—what’s the difference? People from both places think the same way, don’t they? They’re absolutely sure what they’re doing is more important than anything else anybody else is doing because they’re spending more money than anybody else can.”
“Let me get back to you on that,” I said.
“On what?” said the O.B. He read my face. “I’m joking,” he said. “I know what you just said. I can remember from moment to moment. It’s the overall moments that sometimes slip away. I never knew I had so much of myself to lose.”
We walked back into the sunlight. Together, we gazed at the big, brass guardian angel that hovered over the roof of the building. It gleamed so brightly that all I could think of were Biblical references to graven images.
It was as though the Old Billionaire read my mind.
“Like the Golden Calf, isn’t it? Except the Golden Calf didn’t cost anywhere near what this monstrosity did. That European sculptor I found took the Billionaire Family Trust for an arm, a leg, half a ribcage, and both lungs.”
“You really thinking you’re going to die soon?” I said. “You look full of life to me.”
“Full of something anyway,” he said. “Don’t know when I’m going to die. Just hoping.”
“It’s come to that?”
The O.B. didn’t answer, just shook his head and forced a smile. “What about you? Got a place where you want to be laid to rest?”
“I’m looking forward to a tidy cremation,” I said. “But I’ve never thought about where the ashes would go from there.”
“Think about it now, will you?”
His look showed how much it meant to him. I did my best. “I don’t have any special place. And I don’t think I’ll be where my ashes are anyway. I’ll be with the Wind that scatters them.”
The Old Billionaire shook his head. “Think anyway,” he said. “For me?”
As he asked, I realized that if I wanted to be buried anywhere I did know a place that could be perfect for both my spirit and any physical remains. The cemetery in Mannsville, Oklahoma, where Gwen the Beautiful’s father is buried.
It’s the epitome of the country graveyard. Green. Blue-skyed. Lined with shady trees. A feeling of perfect harmony lies over the Mannsville cemetery. In many ways it’s the most peaceful spot I’ve ever been.
I opened my mouth to explain it to the O.B., but his eyes, still looking back at his mausoleum, stopped me. Suddenly, I understood what he wanted to hear.
“Well, like you, I’ve always thought this area around Fayetteville was beautiful,” I said. “A man could be comfortable sleeping forever here.”
The Old Billionaire smiled. “Yep,” he said. “I think so too. But not yet. Oh, no, no, no. Not for you, or Nettie, or Gwen. Not yet.”
“No,” I said. “Not yet.”
“If I were a drinking man, I’d drink to that,” said the Old Billionaire. “Hmm, maybe – just for today – I am.”
He waved to his driver, and we went back into town, to a little place on Dickson Street.