I arrived late, and found myself walking in to a sea of black. Despite the frigid temperatures, every member of our small town assembled on the snow-covered grass. The contrast of black attire against the freshly fallen snow created a scene straight out of an old movie. Men with their fedoras and triblys, and women with veiled cloches stood reverently around the canopy, grateful for the warming sun that was breaking through the clouds.
A row of finely uniformed men stood at attention just past the crowd, stoic and reserved while the bugle played Taps. Avoiding anyone’s attention, I stood beside a large oak. The crowd began to shift to the right, forming a line of clustered families. Their parting brought the scene into full color. Under the canopy, the bright lines of red and white glowed in the afternoon sun. From under a bouquet of roses, I could just make out the blanket of blue with small snow-white stars embroidered upon it. The line of families began to block my view of the flag covered casket. I held my breath and watched as friends and neighbors shook hands and offered their condolences.
That’s when I saw him, sitting in the center folding chair. I couldn’t see his face, but the angle of his dusty brown cowboy hat made it clear that he did not want to be seen. His brown Carhart work coat was out-of-place in this menagerie of black and gray wool. His jeans were dark blue and clearly the pair he reserved for Sunday Worship Services. He stared down towards his pointed black boots. The women flanking him tried to move the crowd along, grabbing hands that had been outstretched to him. He remained motionless. It didn’t seem right, I thought, to bury a child. It didn’t seem fair, to bury your only son.
The crowd meandered to their cars and set off on their way back home. The family arose from chairs and placed their flowers on the casket. Arms locked, they headed for their cars. All of them, except the man in the cowboy hat. I slid up unnoticed and took a seat beside him. Staring at the casket, I reached out to touch his hand. He laid a tired, leathery hand on top of mine and I felt his body give in to the grief.
We sat in silence as the soldiers folded the flag and presented it to him. Salty drops fell from under his brim, dotting the white stars in his lap. I leaned in, laying my head upon his broad shoulder.
“I’m carrying his child.” I whispered. “You son lives on.”
The cowboy wept.