Fritz was over the other day. He is a dog lover and the conversation came around to his "pack" of dachshunds. They are all long, low, and rusty brown, named and loved, but virtually identical to my eyes. When we pull up in the farmyard they are the first out to greet us, a yapping chorus of long dog ratters, smelling for evidence of the Pug on our legs and ankles. Fritz's issue is that their oldest dog probably isn't going to make it through winter, and he has neglected to put down horse manure or straw to keep the potential burial plot from freezing. (A dachshund cemetery: rows of long, narrow graves - very efficient use of space- though I suppose one could just tamp 'em down in post holes.) The last time one of their dogs passed during the winter, Margaret wrapped it in a respectful black garbage bag and put it in the food freezer 'til spring - nestled in next to the hotdogs, venison sausage and other long food.
The potential winter burial triggered memories of Ralph Weinberg, the local gravedigger for Geneva and Clarks Grove. I recall Ralph as a grumpy old man in a straw hat, weathered chambray shirt and faded denim bib overalls. A cussed old bastard. When I knew him he was already an old man, but still with muscled shoulders hunched from a lifetime of hand digging draintile ditches. He quit digging the ditches, but still dug graves well into his old age. Ralph only went to church once a year, in the fall. Fritz and I were surmising that he must have done a round of all of the churches, because his reason for attending was to check on the health of the older members. Winter is harsh in Minnesota, it's when most people die. If someone was "looking poorly", Ralph would check his cemetery map and put straw or manure on the grave to keep the ground from freezing hard during deep winter. Ralph was a seer, our Grim Reaper in denim bibs, but rather than a scythe, he did his damage with a worn longblade ditching spade.