Elmer and I nudge into the last row of mourners gathered around Ralph’s grave in the October chill. Standing at the head of the grave just behind the urn, Reverend Sue begins the grave side rite. Her voice soothes as she speaks the prayers, but the words don’t penetrate. Gloria’s eyes are fixed on the urn, the finality of the physical separation from her husband obliterating everything. I only have byte space for images of Ralph, our neighbor for the past thirty-seven years:
Railroader Ralph tutoring tourist bureau employee Julian on rail history and telegraph equipment so he can give credible tours of the Railway Museum;
Philosopher Ralph presenting eldest son Daniel with a copy of “Desiderata”;
Farmer Ralph pulling into the driveway during harvest in the red ’53 Mercury pickup he called “Big Red”;
Ornithologist Ralph putting a scrap of bread in the hands of four-year old Daniel, and snapping a photo when a robin came to eat out of the hands of an amazed little boy;
Shriner Ralph in a red fez zigzagging a miniature car in the annual parade;
Cheerleader Ralph in our living room, guest of honor at a private jazz concert courtesy of son Julian on trumpet, with pals Alex on bass, and Eric on saxopone;
Sculptor Ralph presenting me with carved wheat sheafs in commemoration of my convocation;
Carpenter Ralph designing and building a spiral staircase to the second story he added to their family cabin;
Social Ralph gathered with neighbors around the fire, addressing current issues;
Enduring Ralph, disease eroding physical capacity, accepting, serene, concerned only with easing his family through difficult times.
Good-bye, Ralph. For us, you will forever enshrine nobility.