Granny had wheezed her last.
The ICU nurse, marching officiously
about the room clicking off this
respirator and that life-support
contraption, was on this dad's dad
and his pack of hillbilly kin to quick
make some funerary decisions and get
granmaw's flippin' carcass the hell
out of ICU to make way for the
next (mostly) living, paying customer.
It was a touching Walton sort-of
moment. One I have passed on
to my own spawn, my gramma's great-
grandchildren, if you are lineage-minded.
It was a moment I am sure I will
share again and again well
into the next millennium should
I have the luck to graduate
(at some future time and on some
future browser), to "grandads.com."
The telling of this bizarre, yet
absolutely true tale, comes with
some critically important baggage.
First off, my long-suffering wife,
who has been force-fed each
pulse-pounding edition (?) of
dads.com, exhorted me to torpedo
the piece --- that
the story is just "too sick."
Secondly, my brother, with whom
I have shaken the ancient
Hungarian/Bohemian/Hillbilly family tree,
freeing dozens of scoundrels and
closeted dirty-dealing gypsy
skeletons, was not only insistent
on having input into the retelling
of the story, but in one genealogical
delirium lobbied aggressively to guest-author
this particular edition of dads.com.
I apologized to my bride, assuring
her I would deal with the topic
(as you readers all can attest, having
perused past dads), with the utmost taste
and élan. I set off to conduct a
number of in-depth interviews
with my only sib to recount the tragic,
tragic demise and the subsequent
cost-conscious disposal of the
earthly remains of our dearly-departed kin.
Grandmother was dead, to begin with,
there is no doubt whatever about that.
But her long-feuding sons, unable to
articulate their common desire to plant
mama on the cheap in the
face of their faux agony and histrionic
hillbilly grief, opted to do the only
thing they could to rationalize
their dignity forever and ever amen
--- they abdicated.
That's how my brother (himself a dad,
of course), and I wound up ejecting
our dead granny's feuding
progeny from the ICU cubicle, and
unwittingly planning her transition
to the next world with only the
assistance of the good book, the common
thread of mankind,
the Yellow Pages.
I touched her forehead and she was still
warmish. My brother grimaced
from across the room as we breathed in
the claustrophobic, uncirculated air
of the dead into which she had
exhaled her last. It seemed like there
was some sickish familial closure there.
We waited to see if her fingernails
or her hair would blossom forth in
Howard Hughes or Rapunzel-like abundance.
They did not.
She was just sort of
ruined, just sort of blue and old,
and really sort of dead.
We had had only the most superficial
of brushes with death before. In our
teeny-weeny home as pups,
during an Adam West "Batman" in which
Frank Gorshin was about to get his
again, we witnessed
through the living room window,
our neighbor getting his instead.
He came stumbling all purply into his
bedroom, clutching at his chest and
trashing all the bric-a-brac on top
of his bureau (searching for his nitro, no
doubt). He went down hard and never
came back up.
The Riddler, however,
was back next week,
bat-time, same bat-channel.
Some guys my brother rustled up
from the 'pages were only too glad
to come on out to the ICU, mitigate
our grief and sell us an absolutely
splendiferous package with which
we'd send Granny off into the brilliant
light of the nether world.
Gramma was getting pretty cold and
pretty darn blue by the time the
gruesome twosome arrived. One was
the sort-of Igor guy, who nodded
and blinked and went "uh-huh, uh-huh"
when prompted by his Charon-
like comrade. The Charon one,
the Brains of the duo, may just as
well have been selling us a rusty
Plymouth Duster with which he'd ferry
our good dead granny across the
river Styx, for my brother and I
knew, judging from her life's parade
of despicable deeds, that that
was surely her destination.
"If you wanna good box, we're talkin'
over 5K," he proffered, munching on
a cigar unlit in deference to
the presence of pure oxygen on the ward.
We hovered over her hospital bier,
looming over her chilling, hardening
flesh as the deal emerged.
"We don't have that kind of capital
behind us," my brother shot back,
leaning on granny's left bed-side
with his full weight, and poking his
face toward The Brains for
heightened bargaining effect.
"No insurance? Dere's gotta be dat.
Hey, doncha all love her or what?"
and he gazed lovingly toward our
progenitor's dead eyes.
"Yeah, yeah yeah," my brother waved
him off and paced. He stopped just
north of her whitened hair,
which still had not grown a whit.
"Cremation --- bottom line ---
"out the door --- how much?"
"Well, dere you're talkin' removal
here, a receptacle for the deceased
durin' de process, uh...ya know, a
service or sumptin, you know, to be
decent an' everyt'ing. Den, what's
it gonna be, where do ya want the
cremains, in an urn or what?
Burial or what? Hey it's up to you."
He took a step back and hung his head,
shaking it in a reverent silence.
Igor followed his lead, also paying
his clumsy and spurious respects.
"Cremains?" I puzzled, thinking Cremora
for some inexplicable reason.
De cremated remains of de deceased."
"What kind of receptacle' are we
talkin' for the actual cremation here?"
my brother sat cross-legged in an
industrial looking chair due south
of our ancestor, tapping his foot as
cute but hardened-looking ICU
nurses whizzed by behind the
sliding glass door.
"Could be cardboard."
"And a brass urn?"
"Brass --- starts at 4-fifty.
Best I can do you."
"Sure! More cardboard. A buck,"
The Brains spat, humiliating us
in front of our even deader grandma.
"Come on," I pleaded, getting into
the whole spirit of the moment,
"there MUST be something less than
"the urn, but better than a
"freakin' cardboard BOX, for godsakes."
"Well, dere IS a polypropylene box.
"Black. Weather proof.
"Very popular item."
A terse moment passed. As I
held my breath I thought I saw gramma
exhale again. I shook my head.
"You mean like Tupperware?"
The Brains and Igor raised their
eyebrows in tandem.
"Well, you could call it dat, yeah.
The image of burping the black box
has never really left me. I have a
graveside photo of it, there on the
icy Astroturf, about to be interred
with her own mom and dad.
My kids have similar polymer boxes.
They keep Ghostbusters and such in
them for posterity.
Our marching orders were to keep the
whole mess under two-thousand dollars,
and it looked like we were
there. The four of us sealed the deal
and exchanged handshakes over the
corpse, (soon to be "cremains"),
and my brother and I figured we'd
be granted a moment alone with
her now to reflect, or pray,
"Canya grab a corner of de sheet?"
It was a moment too existential to contest.
Shooting each other a furtive glance,
we each grabbed onto a
corner of the sheet below the bod,
and with the grunt and strain of
dead weight, hoisted her onto their
gurney. She was square in the middle
of a black body bag replete with
a 7-foot zipper.
Igor ran it up the
and she was gone.
"Pleasure doon bizness wich ya,"
and The Brains and Igor, sporting
appropriately dour expressions
wheeled granny onto the service
elevator, and into the hereafter.
The family were all still feuding
at the stripped-down ceremony.
My brother and I sort of unofficially
officiated. To bring it all in
under budget, we rented an exquisite
brass urn for the funeral home service,
and used one of my own "nothing books"
for the register.
We just couldn't
bring ourselves to bring our kids.
We also couldn't bring ourselves to
reveal that the only person who was
not at gramma's lo-budget burial
service was gramma herself. It
would've cost extra to have the
"cremains" transported to the home
and shoehorned into the rental urn.
The wailing and weeping kin knelt
and unknowingly prayed in front of an empty rental
vessel instead. Gramma reposed tranquilly,
eternally, in black Tupperware
guaranteed impervious to the weather,
miles and miles away.
We had her name chipped into the
margin of her own mom and dad's
shared red granite headstone in the
old Hungarian cemetery, we did.
And as gramma's extended and
endlessly-warring family secretly
recoiled at the uncouth and yet
highly economical black box about
to be interred over her own mother's
ancient breast, I turned my dadly head
into the bitter March wind,
and thought about all the far-flung
chance and clandestine meetings of
my ancestors, which,
beating astronomical odds, somehow
allowed me to stand living and breathing,
in that solemn place of the dead.
Special thanks for the bandwidth to the fine folks @ multiverse.com