She’d made it plain for years: “When I kick the bucket, I don’t want a fancy funeral. I don’t want you to spend any money on a casket. I just want to be cremated and buried in your father’s grave. No extra burial plots. They are too expensive. Just take a spoon or something, dig a hole and dump me there. But don’t get caught. It’s illegal, you know. You could be fined or maybe arrested.”
She’d fought long and hard with the local authorities over the cost of dad’s plot in their community cemetery and she continued to rant for years about it. I’d listen, laugh, let it go in one ear and out the other. Months later she’d bring it up and we’d have the same conversation all over again.
For a long time it seemed like she’d outlast all of us. As time passed she got feistier and more demanding about what she wanted. Then she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She underwent chemo, lost her hair and started asking us to choose belongings of hers that we would want when she finally “kicked the bucket.” She would dutifully put our names on pieces of furniture, paintings, appliances, etc. She’d occasionally change her mind and want to take back what she had promised but in the end everyone in the family had what they wanted.
So it was on Thanksgiving Day, 2008, that my brothers, my nephew with his wife and daughter met my husband and me at the cemetery where my dad had been buried. It was located in a small New Hampshire town where my parents had once lived. The wind was howling, whipping snow flakes through the air and the sod around my father’s bronze marker was already somewhat frozen. My brother Reid hacked away at it with a spade he’d brought along just for the occasion while the rest of us danced up and down trying to keep warm. We kept watch for the authorities mom had warned us about. Looking over our shoulders as cars approached, we’d tell Reid to stop, and all gather together around the grave to hide our illegal grave digging. We laughed and giggled and I think we all felt like we were all playing roles in some great American farce.
When Reid had managed to carve out a six-inch square, Zed poured a handful of ashes into the shallow grave. We tamped the sod back in place, barely leaving a sign that the earth had been disturbed. I suggested that we pause to a say a final farewell to her, but the wind pushed and prodded us to keep moving. A thin blanket of snow began gathering in some of the more sheltered areas around us. Later over roast turkey and all the fixings we laughed about how we had pulled it off. She got what she wanted and we once again laid claim to the unconventionality that seems to forever be the trademark of my family.
Mom died 4 years ago May 21, 2007. It took well over a year to bury her. I scattered more of her ashes under the Smoke Tree Bill and I planted in her memory at our home in Virginia where she’d spent most of her last seven years living with us. She had smoked cigarettes up until the day before she died, addicted and constantly denying their role in her demise. That Smoke tree is lovely in the spring covered with large clusters of tiny pink flowers that resemble plumes of smoke.
My brother, Reid, died a year ago on June 1st. His ashes are scattered throughout the woods of New Hampshire where he spent hours in the warmer months gathering wild mushrooms.