Off to the Land of Up-side-down

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Autumn makes you think about things you’ve never thought of before. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the harvest moon and the hint of adventure on the breeze. Maybe it’s the last stubborn leaf clinging to the maple tree…Or maybe it’s the long lines of geese flying overhead—a honking traffic jam in the sky—wending their way southward. They know where they’re going. But do we?

Restlessness assailed me one autumn afternoon. I went to find my daughter. “Let’s go for a drive,” I said. “We need to explore—maybe do a little Nancy Drew-ing. What do you think?”

“Sure,” said Mystia, putting down her Nancy Drew mystery, “Why not?” Taking off in a cloud of dust, we headed for the back roads, humming and singing nonsense rhymes from childhood.

“We’re off to the Land of Up-side-down,

Where umbrellas smile and the pumpkins frown,

Watch me, Kitty, catch a Ringo!”

We followed the dirt tracks, heading deep into farm country where you see nothing but soybean jungles and long pathways tunneling through dry corn. We wandered down the dirt trails criss-crossing the Heartland, spending the afternoon poking around in the dusty corners of rural Nebraska.

When at last the sun began to set, we moseyed on toward home—past leaning barns and weary farmers finishing up their fields in the fading light. Day was dying in the west, quickly paling to a lifeless gray.

A graveyard came into view, stark in the glare of our headlights. On impulse, I pulled into the prairie cemetery, ignoring my daughter’s protests. We stared about us at this City of the Dead—gazing at the dark, windowless towers— miniature skyscrapers silhouetted on the skyline. Silence reigned. The occupants of this city dwell side by side, elbow-to-elbow in mute companionship. A graveyard is the only place on the planet where the Hatfields and the McCoys get along. It is a Land of Up-side-down, indeed—yet there’s nowhere else that’s quite as peaceful.

Twilight deepened. The crescent moon lodged itself in the branches of a cedar tree near the edge of the cemetery. Dusk descended as stars pricked holes in the sky. I thought of all the regrets and If only’s buried in this graveyard as I gazed at the moonlight filtering downward—the same moonbeams that had shone down on a thousand generations before us. If the bones in this cemetery could speak, what would they talk about?

Relationships that will never be? Memories that were never made? Forgiving words that were never spoken. Prayers that were never prayed?

Above me, the crescent moon freed itself from the cedar branches and sailed westward, taking with it the regrets and prayers of many generations.

“Mom?” my daughter spoke out of the darkness. Her voice was small. She was probably thinking about such weighty matters, herself. “Mom!” she said, again—louder this time. “Can we go now?”

“Mm-hmm. In just a minute,” I murmured, squinting through the windshield. “I see something, and I want to check it out. There’s a mystery out there, Nancy Drew.”

She sighed.

I got out of the mini-van and began walking through the dusk toward two lighted flames on the far side of the cemetery. Mysterious and beckoning, they glowed softly in the autumn twilight. The twin flames seemed to be hovering there, guarding a very large tombstone.

Feeling mesmerized, I stared at the glowing lights as I moved toward them. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was rather disappointed when I reached them. The flames were modern devices. Some new-fangled solar lights flanking a huge tombstone. I bent to examine the large monument, then caught my breath sharply. I stared at the birth date on the grave. October, 1961.

I straightened abruptly. It was my birth month, and it was the very year of my birth, as well. And the date of death? December 11th, just a few weeks from now. A shiver ran through me, and I felt suddenly cold. Just suppose…? Now there’s an eerie thought. What if I only had a few weeks left on earth? What if December 11th were the date of my death? What would I do with my few remaining days?

An odd foreboding swept over me as I stood there staring downward. It was like looking at my own headstone. Strange. So strange. I had walked all the way across a dark graveyard for this…? What did it mean?

I didn’t linger long, but my thoughts were deep as I made my way back to the minivan. With caution, my daughter unlocked the van door for me. She was chomping her chewing gum nervously—looking rather unNancy-Drewish.

“Mom, you’re nuts,” she said, as I climbed in. “Look! There’s a car coming, now. What will people think of you wandering around in a graveyard at night! They’ll lock you up. Why do you do stuff like this?”

“Well,” I said briskly, starting the engine. “It’s good to go to cemeteries sometimes. It makes you think about things you’ve never thought of before.”

“Yeah,” Mystia said, “Like thoughts of strangling your mother. Now—let’s go before that car gets here.”

I laughed. “Sure sweetie. We’re out of here… Out of this Land of Up-side-down!”

I drove slowly homeward, watching the crescent moon slip in and out of the wispy clouds like a small ship on shiny waves. It sailed steadily westward—a vessel bound for some distant port on the far side of the world, slipping past planets and constellations— past Draco the Dragon and Hydra the Sea Serpent. Around the planet it sails, unaffected by our change of seasons…untouched by the conflict and tragedy taking place on Earth.

“Round and round like a big yo-yo,

Watch me, Kitty, catch a Ringo.”

Feeling rather sleepy now, I pulled into the driveway, coming to a stop by the farmhouse. Ah, the follies of mankind, and the adventures of an autumn eve. We’d made a few memories, solved a mystery or two and stirred up a little dust. Not bad for a couple of Nancy Drews in the Land of Up-side-down.

Getting out, I stretched my stiff muscles, and trudged toward the house while gazing sleepily up at the crescent moon. Why is it that autumn always make you think about things you’ve never thought of before? A mystery, it is. A real mystery.

Now, I said to myself, yawning—if we could just figure out what a Ringo is, we’d be doing fine. Just fine.

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