Elizabeth would have hugged her if she could, the tiny lost girl, but had to settle for sitting still above her and whispering secrets amidst the close-cropped dandelions.

We went from grave to grave and Elizabeth gave flowers to some of the babies who flickered in and out of life so long ago, fresh-plucked rhodie blossoms and a daisy or two borrowed from recently dead grownups. I trust they don't mind.

It's easy to imagine these little ones living on, having babies in their turn, becoming grandmas and grandpas, before taking up their rightful places in the Ilwaco, Wash., Cemetery, eventually to be surrounded by generations of family.

Movies show spooks and zombies, angry things, bubbling up from graves, punishing the living for being alive. What vile silliness!

Regret is as close as you will feel to a negative emotion wafting about the tombstones - regret over joys not experienced, regret over words of love not spoken, regret over wasted time, wasted chances, wasted worry over all the empty things that clutter our brief time above the soil.

We walked around visiting people I've known and heard of, pausing to tell Elizabeth "Oh, he was nice man. I talked to him once before he died. He helped your school." And "This man was a fisherman who died out in the river. I sure wish he had stayed home that day."

One I spent a minute with used to work for my newspaper back when it was a youngster, and I know him mostly from two or three photos, a wiry dark- mopped young guy with a jittery energy. In one, he sits in a darkened doorway with other men on July 4, 1903, and I'm willing to bet there was a cold beer out of sight on the planks behind him.

Will Barrows drew news illustrations and political cartoons, firmly opinionated jabs at venial local officials and the pressing controversies of a small fishing town, things like competition from immigrant labor and controlling salmon predators. They most often accurately reflect the concerns of his time, though I bet he sometimes got his editor in trouble, just as my cartoonist does me. But then that is the chief pleasure of cartoonists, that and canceled subscriptions.

Forty years after he was gone, his daughter remembered "Papa tried everything and did it all well, but next to his great love for his family, came drawing and steam engines."

He converted anything gasoline-powered to steam, if he could, and ran a small steam donkey with which he and a crew logged the strong old forest above Bear River.

I honor him as he lies among his neighbors above Baker Bay, no ghost but a kind memory on the sunny hillside.

Elizabeth told us the other day if she dies as a child how she'd like her "heart and brain and anything else they can use" to help sick kids and adults stay alive, cheerful at the thought of being able to make such a generous gift.

But I sure hope my 7-year-old gets to realize her dream of being "an ' FBI' and a rock star" for many years before she makes her ultimate gift.

Helping and rescuing are written into her genes, something made obvious by our recent first visit to her birth-father's sister and father, who just turned 89. Believing more family is always better, we reached out to them for our small adopted wise woman this spring.

Her aunt, a sweet veterinarian's assistant, has a home overflowing with hundreds of rescued homing pigeons, doves, goldfish and a shy kitty, as well a gentle horse kept on pasture a few miles down one of King County's surviving country lanes.

Life never was meant to be haunted, in any sense. The rich grass, the picnic lunch, the slow horse carrying my daughter told me so.

- M.S.W.

Matt Winters is editor of the Chinook Observer


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