When we finish up our work thing, we should drive out into the country to look for the Coon Dog Cemetery, I say, hopefully, to my friend. Alternatively, I say, because I have done a little research, we could go the Billy Reid store. There is a shoe sale on. Men’s shoes, really cute Oxfords, and these T-shirts for storm relief that say Alabama Forever.
One can also visit the WC Handy birthplace. Or visit the revolving restaurant with its river view. No one mentioned all the old signage. If you are headed to Florence, Alabama anytime soon I recommend you go shootin’.
And dogs it is. She even pulls over in the parking lot of a McDonald’s on the way there, which has an original Golden Arch, saying, You must take a picture.
The directions indicate that the cemetery is only 15 minutes out of town but it is much further. It could be another 30 minutes. There is no turning back. We are driving down an empty road, cell coverage dropping in and out.
The blue GPS dot on my phone, indicates that we are sailing right past it in on a gravelly gray road with no markings, twisting its way further into the woods. What have I gotten us into?, I wonder briefly, but then there it is.
I sign the guest book. In case I am murdered, this will be my final proof of existence.
It is a graveyard in miniature, with tiny bouquets next to all the little headstones, some carved, some welded. One grave has a dog bowl next to it. There are collars, looped over wooden crosses. To be buried here one needs to be a certified coon hound and your friend needs to swear to it, too, but of the dog’s own merits to qualify I guess it’s just up to the owner as to whether they want to do it.
At our work retreat we had talked about what we wanted to do with our professional selves in the year ahead. We had read books in trios and shared things we found relevant. One group had us each write a one-sentence epitaph on the premise that in so doing you can identify your purpose and then make more of the days in between now and then.
I photograph 26 graves and none of them were the ones that solely listed the credentials and awards of the deceased. But the dust in a bowl, the awkward wording, that’s the beauty of it.
Dogs live in the present and they don’t have stuff. They don’t dwell on things. They love a car trip. You see them skittering precariously in truck beds on highways all over the state, running in frantic little circles to bark over both sides at once, leaping onto the silver toolbox, barking at your dog, your dog barking back.
And to lose them is inevitable. You get about decade, most of a childhood. Here is this place where they are carved barking up trees and remembered in an elegy that involves a raccoon trapped in a mailbox.
There need to be places like this in the world, that are universal and specific; that are detours and destinations; where a friend humors you and your husband holds down the fort for a few extra hours. The days fly by in a blur of doing, trying to reach a state where nothing is broken, no one is sick, all appointments have been made, everything is taken care of and dinner will happen as if by magic.