One pilose and one squamous animal companion will not make the trip. Rather, whatever remains of their bodies will linger as we move from one Boston neighborhood to another shortly.
They are both real an symbolic. They are less substantial than the friends and acquaintances. They are less obvious than the flowers planted, the herb garden, and the children’s growth lines on the door jamb. Yet in the unwritten book of place memories, Tang and Igor have their pages.
I also ritualized my grandfather in the backyard. He had served as my father figure and being two generations older died far too soon, without being available to play with my children as he had with my older sister’s. For me, he was no longer available for to question and to bring disappointments and joys to his altar of wisdom. Yet it came to me as a variation of the Asian ancester shrines that I could place a locus for him within a few step.
He and my grandmother were buried in a small town along the Potomac, in the hills between West Virginia and Maryland. The Odd Fellows Cemetery is far less accessible. Instead, I placed a photo and a few artifacts in a tin, which I buried deep in the garden. He was gifted in his ability with both flowers and vegetables; I spent many summer days with him planting, weeding and harvesting.
In that sense, he has always been available for a chat.
For the animals, there is a clear bifurcation. Our first son had an iguana, a rather attractive critter, if not too cuddly. Igor died of the common arthritis as a juvenile. His corpse went deep under the roots of the gigantic beech.
Tang on the other hand was a delight for 15 years. A Maine coon cat that never reached the stereotypical gigantic proportions (altered early by contract with the breeder, so probably short on hormones), Tang had the delightful personality and even temperament of the breed. Three kids chased and handled him, with no complaints. He was affectionate and seemingly ever grateful. He never broke anything nor leapt on tables.
Alas, as most of us will, he wore out. In his case, the vet was after us for some time to have him euthanized. His joints hurt and did not respond long to any medicine. He lost interest in both food and movement. Eventually, we let the vet do the kind and evil deed and buried Tang with his cat bed and blanket far down where we planted a cherry tree as a living marker.
Our small house, which I love and my wife long ago tired of, has the predictable memories. Each wall, sometimes literally, is awash with invisible residue of events and words and thoughts of the five of us and our visitors. I would suppose the new owner should exorcise us.
Yet, the animals and ancestor in the backyard will remain known to me. Leave taking will require yet another ritual.