This is a story about memory and remembrance. And, because this is Cape Cod, fishing.
In the 1970s, my in-laws owned a house on Bass River. One day, probably around 1975, when my husband and I were walking our dogs along the shore, I glanced up at the river bank and saw … a gravestone.
It was engraved with a fish and the initials “CS,” and faced the river. It was about 2 feet tall, and shaped like a traditional 18th-century slate marker. It was not in an easily accessible spot, and the steepness of the bank made it almost impossible to have buried someone there, but this stone was new and clearly had purpose.
I was an editor at the local paper, so I snapped a photo and published it, asking if anyone knew about the gravestone’s origin. And since the paper was the social media of its time, it took only a few days for a woman to call and tell me the story. The way I remember it, her son had died, and she and her grandchildren placed the stone at his favorite fishing spot to honor him.
It’s hard to say why some stories stick with you, but that one did. Long after my in-laws sold the house and I no longer walked the river, I wondered if the stone were still there, or if it had been destroyed by vandals, tides or storms. Occasionally I asked friends who were boaters on the river if they’d ever seen it but no one ever had. I worried that despite the family's efforts, it had been a fleeting memorial.
Recently, on a total whim, I decided to hunt for it, although I wasn’t sure it was even possible to access that part of the river anymore without traisping through someone’s yard. But on a gray day, I drove down back roads until I found what looked like a public path. Then, because I was wearing my favorite leather boots, I thought I’d just wander 10 yards or so down the beach and see if anything looked familiar.
I ended up walking half a mile, dodging worn logs and the arching fingers of downed trees, keeping an eye to the rippling river on one side and its eroding bank on the other. I remembered how much I like rivers – they travel someplace instead of just pounding the same spot like a crazed ocean wave. I saw a softball size whelk; a drowned possum; a discarded flip-flop; the remains of a lion’s mane jellyfish, and plenty of driftwood. I followed the tracks of a dog walker and dog, until those disappeared and there were only gull tracks.
I did not see a headstone.
When I could go no further without waders or a kayak, I turned back, casually scanning the bank, more out of duty than optimism that a different angle would help my quest.
Suddenly there it was.
It was smaller, of course, than I remembered, but still standing stalwart on the bank, looking out over the river. The stone had turned a gray that blended with the tree trunks, making it hard to see in the woods. I was so startled I’d actually found it that I was hit by my own rush of sweet memory of my husband, his parents and summers by the river. After 50 years, the stone was indeed a memorial, not just for the fisherman’s family, but for mine.
I stood for a while to pay my respects and wished I had brought flowers. Or perhaps a bluefish.