Today at the worksite I stood by and leaned on my shovel, my lanky dad beside me doing the same, and we watched my uncle Dale run the backhoe as he dug out a rectangular pit in the dead grass. The machine creaked and rattled, and whenever the bucket reached the limits of its range of motion, the parts of the backhoe slammed together with the sound of hammering steel over the whir of the engine. The stabilizers pushed into the topsoil, ruining the turf a little where they set down. I watched uncle Dale shake the bucket, freeing stuck clumps of dirt to fall into the old International dump truck. There were some folks across the road watching us, all three of us in our matching work coats with “Meade Construction” embroidered on the back.
I was thinking when Dale finished and came down from the backhoe I would tell him he dug it crooked and he better do it again. It was the kind of teasing my granddad brought to the jobsite. But then I thought again and thought better of it. Anyway, my dad sent me down in the hole with my shovel as soon as Dale was done and I was occupied while Dale drove the backhoe up onto the trailer and he and my dad got it chained down. It used to be that my eighty-two-year-old granddad would help with the chains, complaining by saying “Them’s some heavy chains. I’m finished with chains,” but doing it just the same and by nothing other than his own stubbornness.
After a while my uncle appeared above me, his steel-toe boots at eye level.
“Well, we’ll see ya later, Case. Hope ya got all ya need down there for the night,” he said.
“Funny guy,” I said. Then I thought again and said, “Oh yeah. I got a six-pack and some movies in from Netflix. It’s great down here. Come on in an’ join me.”
Dale reached down and we grabbed onto each other’s gloved hands and he helped me out of the pit.
In the sixty-some years that Meade Construction has operated Sheridan County has changed considerably, and we were there all along, changing it with our own hands. We moved it by the fistful, the shovel-full, the backhoe-full, the dump-truck-full–the pale clay powder of the high plains, the red shale of ancient lake beds, the black topsoil that lies beneath lawns and gardens, and even the crumbled granite we’d blown from the mountain pass. The mud and machine grease we Meades have cleaned from under our nails over the generations would make no small mound, I’m certain.
It wasn’t the first time I’d dug a grave, just usually it wasn’t my kin. I didn’t spend long looking at the hole before getting in the truck, ’cause I knew it wasn’t finished and I would see it again soon. The headstone was supposed to be back from the engraver’s Friday, in time for the services.