Uncle Gordon’s lawn took up most of the full-acre lot in this corner of New Jersey countryside outside of Princeton, about 45 minutes from New York City. It’s surrounded most immediately by farms, a shallow tributary of the Pike Run River and, more recently, tracts of McMansions and strip malls.
My aunt and my cousin, her only son, have been doing the best they can to tame this patch since Gordon left us in the fall, an untimely death for a man who had planned on just about every eventuality — even this one.
So I set out early on the morning of his memorial backyard party to trim back the weeds on the edges, blow out the last of the leaves that had gathered in the corners, square off the horseshoe pit. That kind of thing.
Tending another man’s lawn is a strange business, and the kind of thing that forces you to accept the finality of death.
The night before, we gathered in the family room and went through the stacks of their record collection, a time capsule stretching from the late 1960s, when they each began collecting records, through the Golden Age of the 1970s and into the late 1980s, when they pretty much stopped making records.
This was the music that I grew up on — literally the very same records: Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, the Grateful Dead, the J. Geils Band, Little Feat, all of that. In the span of a couple hours, my kids — who had never before seen a vinyl record — heard the soft fuzz behind the early Bob Marley recordings, learned the chorus to “Dixie Chicken” and inherited a piece of wisdom that my aunt and uncle espoused, namely that the Rolling Stones sound best on vinyl, one album side at a time.
The playlist came along in linear fashion as we picked through the stacks. We passed around the album covers and liner notes to complete the tactile experience. Some of the older ones — Beatles, early Stones, Jethro Tull, the stuff Gordon had collected before he met my aunt — had his name labeled in the upper right-hand corner, made on the kind pistol-grip press you don’t see around too much anymore.[pullquote]The night before, we gathered in the family room and went through the stacks of their record collection, a time capsule stretching from the late 1960s[/pullquote]
You cut a man’s lawn, you listen to his records, you gather in his yard with the people he loved and those who loved him, you get a sense of his full measure. It reveals itself slowly, like an album side, or a horseshoe pit choked with weeds.
We missed him, even though at times it felt like he was still there.