On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, I pulled my car close to the house, hooked up the water hose and filled up a bucket with suds. My car was dirtier than usual, but I had driven a lot of sad miles a week earlier, and washing it had been the last thing on my mind.
As I removed each layer of dirt, grime and mud, I thought back to how all of it had gotten there.
That oil on the windshield, for instance, was from following big rigs down the interstate, darting in and out of lanes, driving much faster than usual. After receiving a telephone call with bad news, I was rushing to a hospital near where I had grown up.
Now visible through the newly cleaned windshield was trash inside my car - water bottles, food containers, gum wrappers - from that trip, and from another the next day, a mad dash back to my house the next day to get my funeral clothes.
The red clay on my tires was a reminder that the route between the hospital and the funeral home was not all pavement. There were dirt roads and driveways that led to my siblings' homes, where we talked and drank coffee and slept.
That road salt inside my car's wheel wells? It was picked up on the day it snowed. The accumulation of several inches closed schools and roads, and we feared we would not be able to drive over mountainous roads to the funeral home in time.
The snow melted quickly, though, and I like to think it was Sammie's last joke for us, showing that his sense of humor was not diminished by such a thing as death.
Those stacks of paper in the back of the car included programs from the funeral, telling who Sammie was for those who did not have him for an older brother. There were copies of the local newspaper obituary that had startled his friends one morning with the all-too-early news of his unexpected passing.
The wadded-up tissues in my car were from the drive to the cemetery. We were still thinking about the funeral, during which we listened as the guitarist played the kind of music Sammie loved to pick. Wayfarin' Stranger, and Angel Band, and more.
Then the preacher, who had known Sammie for years, reminded us that it was foolish to think we had lost Sammie. How can you lose a loved one when you know exactly where he is? He told funny stories about Sammie, and we laughed. And we cried.
I remember telling someone I wasn't crying for Sammie, who no longer hurt; I was crying for myself because I no longer had Sammie in my life.
The mud on the floor mats came from our shoes after we trudged across freshly dug earth in the little cemetery of my hometown. We sat in folding chairs under a tent as mist fell from a gray sky, melting the last of the snow. Final words were said, the flag was folded and presented to Sammie's daughter, and we cried some more.
Those petals on the carpet of my car fell from the two roses we pulled from a big arrangement at the grave site and laid on our parents' tombstone a short walk away. Here's Sammie, we said. Our brother, but your firstborn. He needs you to take care of him again.
All that, and more, I cleaned from my car. All that, and more, will always be with me.
Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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