More than two centuries before the events of this brief tale, long ago when Hobbiton’s cemetery was first established in the valley, its south border had then been no closer than 100 yards to the stream, and the gurgling waters had serenaded the quiet dead from afar. But slowly over the long years the meanderings of the waterway brought its course to almost beneath the low hedge of boxwood marking the cemetery’s border. And there now the ancient willow trees bowed over the boxwood and trailed their mournful branches into the stream as it chuckled irrepressably on its long journey to the unknown sea.
And so it was one fine morning in mid-April of the year 1394 by the Shire reckoning that young Frodo Baggins waded across this water and climbed the bank to the break in the hedge giving entry to the graceful meadow of graves. He had not intended to come this way when he’d set off shortly after sunrise. Indeed, he’d wandered easy and aimless for many miles before he glimpsed the rays of the early morning sun slanting through the mist rising from the stream. So he had come upon the watercourse and followed it as the morning advanced. Warmth came to the meadows and woods, and the squirrels and birds and rabbits ventured into the golden light. When it was very nearly 11:00 o’clock, and he’d been about to turn back to Bag End, Frodo caught sight far ahead of the neat hedge and the weeping willows. An almost hidden memory stirred. He went on, waded across the stream, stepped through the hedge and stopped to look about.
And looking about the memory returned of the first time he had been here, nearly 14 years before in the summer of his tweflth year. He had come then with his kin, the Bagginses and the Bolgers, the Brandybucks and the Tooks. He had come with them all to see his own parents buried – and he had not been back since; he had he not been anywhere near this place, though he’d lived with Bilbo in Hobbiton five years now. Frodo did not know why this was. But now he was here he felt it should not be so and he could not turn away.
So he paused at the hedge to get his bearings. Towering ash and oak trees, and smaller ornamental fruits stood scattered about the undulating meadow, that rose gently from the stream up the low hill behind. Open pine woods bordered it to the east and west. No farmland or houses or roads were within view. The modest headstones regarded only the stream as they basked in the late morning sun. All seemed still, save for the juncos flitting from grass to tree to tombstone.
But then a larger movement up the meadow to the west caught Frodo’s eyes. A young hobbit with his back to Frodo knelt at a grave, digging among the flowers bordering it. When he rocked back onto his heels to rest his hands on his knees and survey his handiwork Frodo recognized the characteristic movement he had seen this lad perform a hundred times in the garden at Bag End – it was Sam Gamgee; Sam come to visit his mother, Frodo guessed.
Frodo wished he could leave Sam to his private thoughts and rituals, but he had his own long neglected filial duty to fulfill and knew he would have to wander the grounds to find the grave he sought. Sam would surely notice him when he did. There was nothing for it. He walked up the meadow towards Sam, but not by the direct diagonal route that would bring him up unseen behind the young gardener. Instead he bore straight north for a bit before cutting over, so Sam would catch sight of him from afar and not be startled out of his private musings.
Frodo watched Sam spot him and stand quickly up, rubbing his hands on his breeches and then wiping his damp face with a handkerchief. When Frodo drew near Sam gave him a shy smile, and said in barely more than a whisper, “good morning, Mr. Frodo.”
“Hullo, Sam. I am sorry to interrupt you,” Frodo said earnestly, “but I didn’t know you would be here.” He smiled and admitted, “indeed, until I arrived, I didn’t know I would be here, either.”
Sam nodded. “Sometimes I come, too, without knowing I was meaning to.”
Frodo looked down at two baskets on the ground, filled with young flowers for transplanting and at the shears, trowel, watering can and small sack lying beside them. He gestured at it all, saying, “not today, though.”
“No, sir, not today. I meant to come today. I visit my mum every year on this day.” Sam suddenly knelt to press the earth more firmly around the yellow marigolds that had just been planted.
Frodo looked to the headstone. It was simply marked with the name of Sam’s mother, and the months and years of her birth and death. It was not the anniversary of either. “Is this a special day, Sam?”
The young gardener rocked back and gave Frodo a sad, proud smile. “My birthday. I’m fourteen today.” He turned to the grave. “I always come on my birthday. My mum wouldn’t want to miss it now, would she?” He paused to take a handfull of aged manure from the sack and mix it into the earth at the bottom of a small hole he had prepared. “This is the fifth birthday I’ve come to my mum here. And now every birthday I bring the annuals from all the family to plant, and I tend to the perennials, too and make everything fine and ready for the spring.”
Sam took a pansy from the basket and placed it gently in the hole, added a further small measure of manure, gave a drink from the watering can, then pressed the earth firmly around the roots. He started another hole and as he worked he explained, “there’s plants from all of us for my mum. Marigolds from our youngest – Marigold”. Frodo looked again to the row bordering the left side of the grave. “Daisies over there from my middle sister, they’ll come up in a few weeks. The May tree is from May.” He gestured to the tiny tree on the left of the headstone. “I have to keep it pruned small, my Gaffer says, so the shade don’t get too deep. And I’ve planted climbing nastursians from Hamfast and Halfred, that’ll grow over my mum’s headstone. The rose bush is my dad’s.” It stood to the right of the headstone. “He comes and prunes it himself, though, don’t he?”
“And the pansies, are they from you, Sam?” Frodo gently prompted.
Sam nodded, and lifted another pansy from the basket. A blue faced flower hung broken at the stem. Sam pinched it off and pensively fingered the velvety petals. “My mom used to say pansies always reminded her of me, being so small and sturdy, she said, and flowering all summer, stubborn like, never stopping.” He laid the flower gently aside and rubbed his sleeve across his eyes. “And she said the faces always put her in mind of the dragon I liked to hear Mr. Bilbo tell about.” Sam tucked the pansy’s roots into the hole, covered them with earth and sat back on his heels. “So the pansies is from me,” he whispered.
Methodically he planted a third pansy, almost seeming to forget that Frodo was there; sometimes his lips moved, but no sound came that Frodo could hear. Frodo waited until Sam was done, then asked, “do you know where my parents’ grave is, Sam?”
Sam looked up, startled. Of course I does, Mr. Frodo.” He stood and pointed down towards the stream to the east, to one of the larger willows almost against the hedge.
Frodo nodded and turning to go he squeezed Sam’s shoulder briefly, “I’m sorry if I interrupted you.”
Sam shook his head, “that’s all right, sir, it was no bother.”
Frodo thought he felt Sam’s eyes on him as he walked towards the willow tree and the double headstone set apart from all the others, but when he looked back Sam was bending to gather his gardening gear together.
Frodo stopped beneath the sheltering willow. He looked down at the grave that held both his parents. Now he remembered this place though he had not seen it in almost fourteen years. He was 25 years old now and had lived the greater part of his life without his parents. And felt it. They were his past – a part still of who he was, but no longer all of who he was. Strangely, the reason for his return to Hobbiton – his birthplace and their resting place – had put that distance between them. Bilbo now stood in their stead.
Frodo plunged his hands deep into his pockets and stood contemplating the grave. The sun warmed his back and the stream murmurred gently behind. All those years in Buckland he had missed his parents, desperately at first, and then with an aching resignation that was bearable simply because Brandy Hall provided no daily reminders of their absence and his lost life. But only when Bilbo brought him back to Hobbiton and he began to live as a Baggins again did he truly recover from their deaths. Back in the comforting environs of his home he found the strength to grieve all that he had lost, and to reclaim what he could. Though once back he never came here to his parents’ grave, thinking there would be no comfort in a place that in life they had never been to together, and where he had come to only once, as a small Stoic, newly bereaved.
Frodo walked slowly around the grave, admiring the handsome headstone and the various views of the woods and the stream. He looked up the meadow for Sam, and saw him kneeling again at his mother’s grave. He seemed to be speaking – his head was cocked and he was gesturing gently. Frodo guessed Sam’s mother still occupied his daily thoughts; she was someone he wanted to share the news of this and that with, and whose absence remained an emptiness in his everyday life. Almost Frodo wished that were still true for him, and that he could still feel such a powerful and abiding bond to those whose deaths had almost made him believe in his first grief that his own death would be easier.
Frodo saw Sam gather his things and walk purposefully to a grave somewhat closer by, and set about tending to it. Now Frodo leaned with his arm around the willow’s trunk, trying to recall the day he had stood here so long ago, surrounded by Brandybucks and Bagginses and Tooks, while the falling shovel-loads of earth covered the two people who had made up his life. That day he had felt almost nothing. The first shock of grief had staggered him and then he had summoned a strength he’d never known he possessed and had shut away the sorrow that threatened to tear his child’s heart beyond healing.
Frodo turned away from that memory and looked up to watch Sam at his work: clearing away the litter of fallen leaves, trimming the grass, and planting a few tender flowering plants. He wondered whose grave he was tending and was curious to see that when Sam finished he moved on to a third grave even closer.
It seemed Sam was studiously ignoring him, and so Frodo’s thoughts went back to his parents and he remained only vaguely aware of Sam working close by as he contemplated the long journey he had been on since first leaving this place.
Only after that terrible day of the burial, when he was far from the grave, far from his home and the paths of his childhood, and only when his wounds were cushioned by the passage of time and he was reconciled to the ways of the Brandybucks and his place with them, and only when he had finally left behind the life of a child with parents, had he then been able to grieve after a fashion. Then it was safe to mourn what he told himself was long lost and becoming so foreign; only then was it safe to in solitude take out his sorrow and nurse and cajole it into something like resignation and acceptance. So he had set his wounded heart on a path away from regret, in search of a new identity for the child now rootless and untended. And then – guiltily – he had rued his parents’ leaving, and wondered at their carelessness in a light craft on fast dark waters when their lives were owed to more than only each other.
Now Frodo noticed that Sam had finished but that he was not moving on. He gathered his things together and settled himself against the trunk of a nearby willow, a respectful distance from Frodo. He was watching the river flow by, and he watching Frodo, too, or so it seemed to him. Frodo wondered if Sam was waiting for him to finish so they could walk back to the Hill together.
But Frodo was not yet ready to leave this place he had taken so long to find. Finally he knelt at the grave, ignoring the dampness of the earth seeping through the knees of his breeches. His parents were gone, long gone, but they were together and at peace now, and beginning to fade into ancestry. And now he was nearly grown now and back in his birthplace where he belonged, and he was a Baggins, truly. He, too, had found peace. With Bilbo he had found peace. Frodo brushed the fallen leaves from the grass, and began to pull the weeds from the empty flower bed at the foot of the grave. Too long he had neglected his parents while he healed himself. He bent to his work, and was dimly aware of Sam coming quietly up with his gear. Frodo ignored him without meaning to and carried on.
Sam stopped a few feet away and stood quietly for a moment or two before saying awkwardly, “begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, and meaning no disrespect, but I can do that if you’d like, or help leastways.” He gestured back towards the graves he’d tended. “I’ve done with Mr. Bilbo’s parents and with your fathers’ parents and now just your folk want doing, if you take my meaning.”
Frodo looked quizzically up at Sam, unable to compass his confusion in a question. Sam set his things down at the graveside and knelt on one knee next to Frodo. “My dad keeps the Bagginses’ graves for Mr. Bilbo, and has done for years and years, if you understand. And since I come now to see my mum near every week the Gaffer says I should do the Bagginses and save him the walk.” Sam glanced back at his mother’s grave. “I save him the visit, too. It don’t comfort him to come to my mum’s grave, Mr. Frodo, not like it does me.”
Sam pulled his basket of flowers over. “I’ve brought some flowers for your mum, Mr. Frodo. Primulas, in memory of her name, if I can be so bold, to put in the bed here. And there’s others too, seeds and plants if you was wanting to choose. Take what you will, please, sir. I can bring others next week if you like.”
Frodo smiled at Sam and thanked him with brief words that still made the young gardener blush.
Together and silently they tended the grave, Sam following Frodo’s lead, and when all was done Sam stood. “I’ll be going, then, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo got up too, and stood admiring their work, and the headstones, so beautifully carved with birds and twining ivy and roses, quite unlike the style of the markers in the Buckland graveyard. “Thank-you, Sam. I had never given a thought until today to who kept my parents’ grave for me.” He smiled at him. “I am glad it is you.”
“Well, sir, it’s an honour, as me dad says, to be trusted with such a task. And it was a near thing, wasn’t it, fourteen years ago almost, before my time if you understand, whether they’d be resting here or away in Buckland. But my dad says Mr. Bilbo was so set on them being here that even old Rory Brandybuck couldn’t stop him. Of course Mr. Bilbo had his cousin, Mr. Aldagrin Took taking his side, too. So here they are, where Bagginses belong, and no mistake. It’s that pretty here, too, you just know they must be resting peaceful, and all.” Sam looked around and his eyes wandered to his mother’s grave. “It seems it can’t be but a peaceful rest here.”
Frodo looked at Sam in puzzlement. “Bilbo had them buried here?”
Sam nodded uncertainly and went pink at the ears. “But you knew that surely, Mr. Frodo? All of Hobbiton knew it at the time, the Gaffer says, about Mr. Bilbo being so determined they should come home and he told Mr. Rory it was enough for the Brandybucks to be keeping you, if you understand, without depriving your folks of their proper resting place, and all. My dad says Mr. Bilbo was a force to be reckoned with and Old Rory reckoned he didn’t want that fight, so he gave it up.”
Sam stooped and began gathering up his gear. “And ever since it’s been my dad and now me as have been tending their graves, though Mr. Bilbo comes from time to time, too, don’t he, and your Aunt Dora.” He stood and surveyed the deserted graveyard again. “But it’s quiet here, ain’t it, and usually is. Not many kinfolk come more’n once or twice a year. Maybe they don’t like the looks of the empty spots by their loved ones, that’re waiting for them.” Sam shook his head. “But it don’t bother me, knowing I’ll sleep here forever one day. I don’t suppose a hobbit could ask for a better place than here by the stream in the sun, with the trees talking quietly in the breeze.”
Frodo smiled at Sam. “No one can be resting easier than your mother, Sam, if peace comes from a family’s abiding love.” He looked down at his parents’ grave. “I am glad Bilbo brought them here, where they belong and where I belong, back in Hobbiton.”
The sun was now past its zenith. Frodo bent and picked up the empty watering can and the small canvas sack. “Come on then, Sam, I’ll help you carry your gear home, and you can show me the quickest route from Bag End to here. I came meandering by my own way and that was too long a journey, if I’m to come more often than I have been.”