It’s not fancy; just a simple Wisconsin tavern, the kind of semi-rustic place found in every town and city in the state. The building is small and unassuming. Inside, there’s a bar that runs the length of the room, with the grill at one end and a storage area at the other. The floor has just enough space to fit the pool table and 7 or 8 small tables. Sports paraphernalia hangs on the walls, with the Packers the clear leader and the Badgers a close runner up. The menu is simple but good; burgers, grilled cheese, brats; items that can be done quickly and easily.
I passed it this morning, on my way to an exercise class.
Nine years ago we were newly dating, but already starting to go beyond casual. About once a week we would have dinner with your elderly Aunt. We drove there separately and would stop afterwards at this bar for an after dinner drink. The bar was across the street from a golf course situated on the edge of a cemetery, in an area that was once upon a time the far Western edge of town. At 7pm the place was quiet, past dinner, not yet time for the evening golfers to have finished their games. We’d sit at the bar and nurse a beer, talking quietly. There was electricity between us, a spark I’m sure was palpable to others. We’d spend 40 minutes or so before going out to the parking lot. After a goodnight kiss we’d each drive home in different directions.
I woke up early this morning, early enough to stop and visit your grave before heading off to exercise and grocery shop and see people and do all the things that occupy the living. My best friend helped me pick the site last fall, when I was so much in shock I could barely move. It’s a lovely old cemetery with Civil War soldiers and the history of my adopted city lying within its borders. There aren’t many open areas left. I found one on the far end, near to the golf course, that seemed perfect. A large old tree secludes the site chosen for you. Many of your nearby neighbors are members of the Hmong clans that settled here in Wisconsin, and the loving attention paid to those graves made me feel better.
All through July and August we met weekly at that bar. By the end of August we drove in one car, together. Over the course of those summer weeks we’d gone from dating to something more. We hadn’t yet made it official, but we both knew where we were headed.
A few years went by. We didn’t go there as often; once we started living together, its location as the fulcrum between your house and mine wasn’t as important. You still went past on errands and business, but I hardly saw it any more.
Until last fall. When you were buried just a few short blocks from where we first started. There’s symmetry there; our beginnings and endings, so closely tied together. I usually visit you early on weekend mornings, long before the bar is open. I think, though, that I’ll have to plan on an afternoon visit soon. When I’m done, I’ll turn left instead of right and go a few blocks out of my way. I’ll park in the lot and go into that little tavern, sit down at the bar and order a beer. I’ll make a small, private toast to you; to us; to that couple we were nine years ago, full of promise and hope in the future.