Tuesday, November 9, 2010

And the Subject Was Ashes


Sonny has the unnerving ability of bringing up tricky and sticky subject matter at the wrong time. I can remember a tuna casserole supper as a child when he started explaining how whale blubber is extracted from the carcass. Once during a Village Inn breakfast of runny eggs he graphically described a pig tumor dissection he had seen on the Discovery channel the night before. And then there was the time I was eating a ham sandwich in my parents' living room while he excitedly related to my grandsons the new scat collection at the museum and what was embedded in each of the specimens. So it was no surprise as I bit into my stringy turkey at the St. Rose fall festival that he wanted to talk about corpses and cremation.

I don't eat much meat anymore. And I can point to several reasons for this. I have a dyed-in-the-wool 37-year-old vegan son, a chef in a Boulder vegetarian restaurant who tsks-tsks me about the amount of paper products I use. I'd like to see him care for toddlers without paper towels. My youngest son is swerving in that same meatless direction now that his life is becoming more settled. He had strong inclinations towards the philosophy as a younger man but then med school and all that hell would not allow him the time and concentration needed to maintain the diet. But he is making vegan noises again and ordering portabello sandwiches so I am curious what his visit at Thanksgiving will bring.

In Jim's first year of medical school he was required to take the make'em or break'em class of human anatomy. At this particular university there was an interesting miniature museum of sorts housed in the anatomy lab and when we first visited he wanted us to see it. It included all kinds of human abnormalities swimming in formaldehyde behind the glass doors. We would need to walk past the cadavers lying open and dissected on the trannies. I glanced furtively at the strange bodies, their innards exposed and blooming. My six-month-old grandson whimpered in his carriage - he knew something was amiss in this place, not natural. I was glad to leave this room behind, the strong chemical smell like covered-up death. But it had been interesting and the flesh of those slabs of former humanity resembled, well, turkey.

So when turkey is spooned onto my plate, these memories come back and when I cook a Thanksgiving turkey I feel like a first year med student slivering off sections of grey-beige tissue and the smell of the cooked meat is unpleasant.

I avoid meats that remind me of tissue and feel like tissue in my mouth, beef, pork and poultry. But I continue to enjoy the processed meat - sausage, braunshweiger, baloney, and did I say sausage? I would be better off with the lean cuts but when it comes to food I don't need to make sense.

My father may appear conservative for all the usual purposes but underneath beats the heart of a true rebel and he also has disdain for any society tradition that has no productive purpose. And one of these would be the practice of using perfectly good land to bury boxes full of preserved bodies. He and my mother wanted cremation. They wanted their ashes combined and then thrown to the wind over a beautiful portion of the driftless land, the Mines of Spain. These are old lead mines south of town, at one time dominated by five different European powers, Spain being the most prominent.

But now he's suggesting he only wants half of those mixed ashes to fly freely with the wind and the other half to be buried in the Protestant cemetery in an urn. His thoughts have turned now that my mother is gone and he wants a place where we can visit and meditate. I could plant geraniums and I like that. Heck with the 'using up the good land' theory.

Wild pictures race through my head. I see myself standing at my kitchen counter with my largest mixing bowl and wooden spoon. There are two small boxes postmarked University of Iowa Medical School. Do I really need to stir? My overly animated mind tells me, yes, I should probably stir. And then what? Do I put the bowl and spoon in the dishwasher? Some of my parents' dust is still attached and will go down the sink and that doesn't feel right. Do I bury the dishes near a peaceful steam? I really like my metal mixing bowl. My father's sister and I had talked about this and she asked, "Does all of this bother you?" I was about to answer to the contrary, brave daughter that I am, but then sanity and honesty swept into my psyche and I answered, well, yes.
This same subject came to task when my son Jason was visiting and he used my lap top to peruse the laws on cremation. Cowboy Dave was in the background sputtering about the illegality of the situation but c'mon . . . At my age you get to argue the fine point on laws that make no sense and in this case no harm is being done. The environment is gaining when ashes are added to the mix as they are loaded with nutrients. We humans dwell too much inside our craniums forgetting that in the scheme of things we are just another animal body. Anyway, Jason only found one reference to the illegality of scattering ashes - the area could not be a proposed shopping center site. Chuckle, chuckle. God forbid we do anything to take the shine off the favorite American past time, buying useless stuff.

And now Sonny is talking about a third resting spot for the ashes. I give him the scalding look I gave my teenager years ago when he suggested an unlikely time to return home from a party. It was a bit rusty but the power was still there and that was enough, no more discussion, done deal.

3 comments:

MrDaveyGie said...

O Dawn. Did I tell you I decided I want to be ashed and put into a big salt shaker and somebody has to sprinkle me on all 30 miles of Heritage trail.

dawn marie giegerich said...

Talk to Melissa.

LoRFLoR said...

hey you two - my new url for my blog is www.bowlofwheaties.blogspot.com. sorry for the inconveneince, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.