Sunday, October 2, 2011

she who talks to ashes

I am usually not home at this time on a Saturday morning. Our routine is to leave the house early and wander around the farmers' market and eat a greasy breakfast at the local cafe where we always order the same thing and the waitress knows this.  But today is different.  Dave has left early to attend a veterans' conference and I am on my way to join him and the phone rings. I screen my calls because I am that kind of person and a woman named Sandy tells me I have a package from the University of Iowa at the post office and am I going to pick it up or what.  She's not happy.  I grab the phone.  "Sandy? I'm on my way."  My mother's ashes have arrived.

I put the phone down and I cry a little.  In the car, more crying.  I have ended Sandy's frustration.  She tells me I should have received two peach-colored slips about a week apart telling me of the package's arrival and I have not.  We have a new mail person and she must be overwhelmed at the amount of paperwork a federal job  generates.  The post office can only keep the package fifteen days and today is that fifteenth day and if I have not showed up by noon it was going back and who knows where it might end up.  "I hate to send these back, they're so expensive to mail," Sandy tells me.  The postal mark shows $19.86 and when I lift the small box, it is heavy, concentrated material inside.  "Deeded body program," the return address says.  And the address label is typed, not a computer-made label, somebody somewhere had a typewriter and typed it, imagine that.

In the car I shake the box and I can sense small chunks of uneven material inside.  I have read about cremated bodies and there are always pieces of bone that didn't completely get fired. Back in the car I put my mother in the seat next to me.  And the words come easily.
"Remember the last time we rode together?"  It was the week before she died.  I had taken her to a doctor appointment to get her ears examined for a hearing aide.  "What nursing home is she at," the doctor asked, noticing her black legs, so bruised from the prednisone.  "She's still at home," I said, sensing what I think is disapproval from him.  She would not even discuss the possibility of facility placement, she had worked thirty-three years in a nursing home kitchen and seen lots of unpleasant things.

Afterwards we drove through the summer-kissed countryside and had chocolate ice cream from the dairy queen.  "I'm really not hungry," she said, scraping the last drop from the bowl with her spoon.
My father asks that I keep the ashes in my home. "What if I get run over and nobody knows where they are or what they are."
I am glad she is with me.  She will rest in the same box as her wedding gown.


AmySueRose said...

I think Sandy suffers from burned-out bureaucratic bitch syndrome and needs to put in for early retirement.

RIP Mom, you're in good hands

LoRFLoR said...

Must have been a surreal experience picking up that package.

I used a type-writer last winter for work. I am not sure the novelty ever wore off.