“Kindness Was His Key to Heaven”

…reads the inscription on Joseph Page’s headstone who passed in 1915 at the ripe old age of 78. I like reading stones, for the tales they tell. Old Joe had missed dying in a war, which was notable here where there were dead from every conflict since the Whiskey Rebellion. And dying in ‘15 spared him the last great pandemic which is represented down around the bend where the hillside falls away to the woods and the many small, numbered but nameless stones lay scattered like cockeyed baby teeth in the unkempt weeds. Those are the Spanish Flu dead, buried quickly enough to be anonymous-whole families gone in days leaving the undertaker to rifle through drawers in infected bedrooms for enough coin to put them in even the most undesirable part of the cemetery. Happily, I know no one who’s died this time around. Mom went two years ago and my mother-in-law last year. It was a blessing. But now we’re all being careful. Even at Shirley’s where I stopped last weekend, all the girls wore masks which was sort of comical especially when we got back to the rooms and they wore nothing else. Especially with Cheri, my regular, who always takes me on knees and elbows so it’s not even like we’re facing each other. Since we’re friends I’ve told her she doesn’t have to fake it with me, which I thought was being nice, but probably shouldn’t have because now she never quits talking through the whole thing. It was about the gifts other girls were getting from their regulars for the Holidays. Small refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, big screen TV’s which, she assured me-just as I was letting loose, no less-aren’t as expensive as they used to be. I have a wife and two daughters; enough gifts to shop for. I don’t need to add anything. If I’d tell Shirley how Cheri was trolling for gifts the girl would get a board busted over her ass. I know she’s incorrigible. I’ve seen the bruises. It was easier for me to give her an extra hundo that Shirley didn’t need to know about. Only after getting her to promise she wouldn’t put it up her nose and after checking her arms and between her toes for tracks, pricks or bruises. I promised to see her next week and wanted to do some back-door work. She was fine with that-just wanted to know ahead of time. Plus I pay extra for it.