My friends have long been full of suggestions for story topics whenever I’ve drawn a complete blank – favorite stories about family or work or some misadventure that might have landed me topless in a popular public pool walking around enjoying the warm sun on my skin and the blessing of water in my ears so I couldn’t hear my closest friend hollering, “BETH! Your top!” The kind of stories I’m hesitant to tell, because I’m uncertain how they’ll be received by people outside my tiny circle. But I decided, what the hell, today is the day I’ll pull one out of the vault.
Every six months I go and see my hygienist, Jenny and every six months we exchange the grossest stories we can think of or flip through her book of oral maladies. Teeth and mouths are fascinating! Look, I don’t pass judgement on your relationship with your hygienist. Needless to say, I am now a walking glossary of the truly gross. At one of my more recent visits, it was my turn to share a story, so I told Jenny one of the “family secrets” – one I’d been sitting on for a few years, because it was so bizarre I wasn’t sure how poorly it would reflect on me or my family. Jenny was delighted, then ran around the office and had me retell the story to the receptionists and then my dentist. They all sat slack-jawed as I recounted the events and I ended up shelving that story feeling like maybe it shouldn’t have been thrown out there for public consumption.
Jay has been working with me for awhile on feelings of embarrassment where I’m not directly involved, so here you go – a family story as told to the entire staff at my dental office (thankfully Daddy doesn’t read my blog).
One side of my family originally comes from Alabama (the other side from S. Carolina and Georgia), I’m not sure if that’s an important detail, but it seems to help give a backdrop for this story. Some of my family never left to come over to Texas, maybe if they had things would have worked out a little different. One family that stayed back was an aunt and her odd son (a “distant” cousin, but one that’s a little too close to truly get away with claiming it’s a “distant” relation and one that is close enough that there’s still a striking shared family resemblance between us all). The boy never moved away from home and even into his 60’s he still lived with his mama. Now that’s kind of sweet and maybe that’s what good rural southern boys do, but I’d like to think that my parents did cartwheels and handstands when I moved out and I know I was once told, “if you’re ever in trouble, you can always move back – just don’t stay long”. That was the kind of encouragement that kept me in dorms and apartments and roommates for years and out of regular dramatic post-pubescent histrionic displays performed by yours truly.
So, one night a few years ago my Dad calls. Now my Dad has a special voice he uses to deliver bad news and when I hear that voice I know someone has passed away – it could be a close relative or it could be a prized chicken, but someone or something has shuffled off this mortal coil. That’s when the guessing game starts. “Is it… ?” and there’s a certain order to the names you lead with – proper death guessing etiquette states you aren’t supposed to ask about things like pets first. Dad calmly said, “no, it was Aunt [so-and-so]” (only he used the real name and I’ll just leave that off, because it’s distinct enough and Google-able enough that if you really want to read the actual news articles, you’ll have to work for it.) I adopted the sad voice to comfort Dad, because I really didn’t know her well and met her only a handful of times in my life. It’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a line-up if she’d robbed someone. Dad added, “it was a few months ago”. Ok, news travels slow, but it’s the South. “They just found her body a couple of days ago in a shed on her property. [Her son] put her in there.” Uhhh WHAT?! Are you kidding me? Then the story comes out about how her addled son, confused as to what to do when a person passes away decided that it would be best to put her in the shed on a matress. I guess in his 60+ years he’d never come across a graveyard or heard of cremation, nosirreee, we just haul the dead out to storage. Why not? Then those nosey neighbors eventually had to come poking around, not realizing this was a perfectly “normal” and “common” practice. They wanted to pay a visit to this aunt, because they’d noticed they hadn’t seen her in a few months. They enter the house and found said cousin malnourished and delirious on the floor and had to call 911. When the police and ambulance arrived, they started looking for his mom and eventually the jig was up. It turns out, you’re really not supposed to store folks in sheds no matter how rural your community is. Who knew?
Since then, I’ve started sharing photos of our backyard shed with Dad. I think he feels comforted knowing I’ve got a plan in place when his time comes.
I don’t see what the big deal is, I mean a mausoleum is just a shed with pretty windows in it, right? And think of how trendy and “green” he was being by not pumping mama up with all kinds of chemicals that would just seep into the ground and eventually kill us all. Cremations are expensive and we all have to cut corners. Leave that man and his shed and his mama alone. But someone needs to make him a sandwich or something first.
I love it! I think you’re right, I just need to re-frame this story a bit. I mean, the cousin really did go “green” – he was probably just a meal away from a goatee, some thick framed glasses and being able to order some Birkenstocks or use that natural rock thing for deoderant – and think of that happy little ecosystem he created in that red neck mausoleum! (I wish it had been up on cinder blocks… oh, and that someone had shown him how to fend for himself – foraging or something.)