I am supervising production on an upcoming television pilot. I enter the office today and clear my throat. “So, uh, a package is gonna come and it’s probably gonna say something like HUMAN REMAINS so it’s not for the, uh, prop department. Just put in on my desk. OK?”
Five people look up briefly and nod. They are finally immune to my situations. I once FedExed a hundred pound door stolen off a bar in Boston to the production office in Miami so I guess the words HUMAN REMAINS don’t faze them at all.
After much discussion, Mom’s ashes have been separated for final transmission. A portion will be buried with my Dad when he eventually becomes sick of us and shuffles off his mortal coil. I hope that is a hundred or so years from now. The packet being shipped to TV show will eventually be scattered this summer in the small Florida town of Cassadaga, the psychic capital of the world. Cassadaga is home to a lovely Spiritualist Camp and community that my mother dearly loved.
I plan this event in my mind as I research renting one hundred fake marijuana plants for the filming of this pilot. In Cassadaga we will rent rooms at the friendly hotel. I will hire a New Orleans type band and we will waltz down the street to a Louisiana version of David Rose’s iconic burlesque anthem “The Stripper” – a song Mom dearly loved.
She was born in 1937. Ladies in labor were still being knocked out to give birth, a practice publicized to lessen the stress on the expectant mother but in reality a way to reduce the stress on the obstetricians. While Nana Alice snoozed, dreaming of her new daughter Baby Alice, Poppy happily took the opportunity to name his only child after an African American stripper he greatly admired. Before Nana could open her eyes, my mother was legally named Margo.
“The Stripper” was her secret song. So we will strut to it, adorned in beads and feathers. At the appointed time, our family parade will pull over and Mom’s ashes will take flight, leaving behind her collection of sea glass for small children to eventually find and marvel in wonder at the colored sparkles hiding in the land locked grass. I’ll take her Christmas gift, the one I did not get a chance to give her, and snap it. A small bracelet blessed by the new Pope, the bright beads will scatter in the wind. Despite her souring on the Catholic Church, she had begun to warm to the recent Pontiff. He abhorred the thought of pedophilia, owned a Harley and had no issues with gay folks. What was not to love? The bracelet would have made her happy. So it will travel with her.
As I weave the fantasy of the perfect ceremony, I begin to experience a nagging discomfort. I also hope it goes better than the two occasion when we scattered Nana’s ashes.
Nana passed after a stay in a nursing home. Close to my parents she was visited every day by various family members. Even in her advanced age, vanity prohibited her from wearing her hearing aid so conversations were carried on by Nana screaming questions and the kids in the family writing their answers in large print on a sketch pad.
One example that typifies Nana’s unique conversational style was when she yelled out in a thick Boston accent to her gay great-grandson, “HELLO DEAH! ARE YOU STILL QUEEAH?”
He dutifully printed, “Yes, Nana. I am.” He held up the pad for her to see.
She happily howled, “GOOD FOR YOU, DEAH! DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YA WHAT TO DO!!!”
She retained all of her other senses and sense and delighted the kids in hollering out outrageous questions because she hated all of the staid “old people” at the facility.
Nana, unlike Mom, picked her date and time to move on. Several times during her last year she refused food and drink and appeared to begin her ascent. Then she’d sit up in bed and ask for a sandwich. Finally, I believe, she just decided she wasn’t hungry anymore and that was that. We were sad, of course. And a day doesn’t go by that we don’t talk about her. But she was ready and so were we.
The second time we spread her ashes, we took her to Scituate, Mass. Her old stomping ground, Nana had survived the storm on the century, the Blizzard of ’78. Poppy was not so lucky. He was lost at sea during that cruel Scituate winter and washed up underneath the pier of his favorite bar when the spring began to thaw the ice. The city named a small corner of green after him and installed a stone that reads “Edward A. Hart Memorial Park.” It’s nice but I am sure the story of his return from the sea is one he continues to tell over and over in the Great Beyond.
We took Nana’s ashes to the end of the jetty. That same great-grandson was to say a prayer and open the urn so the ashes would spill into the ocean. Apparently Nana was impatient because he suddenly slipped on the slick jetty stones and all witnesses swear Nana jumped into the cold Atlantic Ocean, urn and all. Not our best handling of the one task our mother had entrusted to us while she was back in Florida. I did not want to report back to her, despite the fact that it paled into comparison to the first effort.
That previous Christmas, the whole family made their way down to the dock behind our parents home. After a short prayer, my dad opened his mother-in-law’s ashes and gave a respectful heave. It should have been more solemn, but we are part Irish, so we couldn’t stop discussing it as a December wind rose and created what can only be called the Perfect Blow Back. In an instant, my mouth was full of my grandmother and several other family members were moving their mouths like that old sitcom horse Mr. Ed.
Mom turned to me and I was ready for a lecture about why I should learn to keep my mouth shut. But instead she whispered, “Remember that old movie title? You know the one I mean.” She was struggling not to laugh.
Yeah, I knew. “Please Don’t Eat The Daisies.”
In my Cassadaga fantasy plan for this summer, I remind myself to pray that the weather is bright and the wind is calm. And at the appropriate time, everyone shuts up – just for once.