If you are one of my relatives reading this, please know that the relative described here was from the other side of my family.
Back in the mid-1980s I received a call that my mother’s brother had died. She had been his beneficiary and executor, and according to the terms of his will, if she predeceased him, I was to assume her benefits and responsibilities. As she had died 1½ years earlier, the mantle fell upon my shoulders.
Uncle Cletus (not his real name) had wished to be cremated. Further, he had stated in his will that No words should be said over his grave, but instead his ashes …should be scattered to the four winds. The caller, his guardian, explained dismissively that, of course, scattering ashes willy-nilly across the landscape was illegal in that state, but perhaps I could make arrangements to bury them on his farm.
Now, let me explain a couple of things about Uncle Cletus.
First, I had only met the man twice: he had visited us briefly one winter when I was perhaps 5, and later my parents and I spent an afternoon with him on his farm when I was about 8. All I remember of the first meeting was that he drove a black Model T, and of the second, that he didn’t have indoor plumbing and that he served my father moonshine which he had made in his own still. (I remember my father commenting that the taste was a cross between wine and beer.) Cletus and my mother corresponded regularly, but very nearly never saw each other or telephoned; apparently they were still of the generation which regarded the 300 or so miles between them as too vast to cross in any way other than by the US mail. However, the ties of family were strong enough for Cletus to account for them in his will.
Second, Cletus had always been a crotchety old coot. He had never married, although he was engaged for a time during WWII to his sweetheart back home. He lived his entire adult life on his little farm, where he grew whatever it is they grow in that part of the country, until he retired and sold the farm. At the time of his death he had been in a nursing home for several years, and in fact had been declared incompetent. The women who called to tell me of his death was the local bank officer who had been declared his legal guardian.
The gist of her call was that Cletus was dead, she would arrange the cremation, and when could I come take charge of the ashes? My husband and I were planning an auto trip later that summer, and we arranged to pick up Cletus’ remains. She gave me the name and number of the old farm’s current owner and suggested I try to make arrangements to bury the ashes there.
At some point between then and our trip, I received a telephone call from another relative, apparently a cousin of Cletus and my mother, who was, to put it mildly, upset at the prospect of Cletus being buried in unconsecrated ground and without proper religious send-off. Although the man was polite and cordial to me, after talking with him I could understand why Cletus and my mother, both prickly individuals to begin with, had severed all contact with that branch of the family. Fervent Christians doesn’t even begin to describe them. Anyway, this relative offered that he and his relatives wanted Cletus’s ashes to be buried in their family plot, and that they wished to read some Bible verses over him, etc., etc. I meekly agreed, all the while thinking, Why me? I don’t know any of these people, including Cletus! However, I felt some responsibility in the matter. After all, Cletus had made his wishes clear, and just because I was too much of a wimp to stand up to those relatives didn’t mean his wishes should be ignored completely. Besides, he had left me some money. Not enough to retire to the south of France, but enough to reinforce my feeling of obligation to him.
A few weeks later, we picked up the urn from the funeral home. Let me describe it to you: imagine a coffee can spray-painted gold. It was fairly light, and, being ever the kurious kat, I opened it to see exactly what human ashes looked like. To my surprise, they looked pretty much like cat litter – the cheap kind! My husband and I pondered this and jokingly suggested, “Maybe we should scatter the ashes and just bury some cat litter!”
Of course, you can guess what happened. While my husband took a nap in our motel room, I took the ashes and our 1½-year-old son and went off in our VW microbus looking for a suitable “four winds” site. After several miles of ever-more rural roads I found a pleasant tree-dappled meadow and scattered Uncle Cletus. I had my son wave Bye-bye, and the deed was done. We stopped at a pet store on the way back to the motel and refilled the urn.
The next day we met the relatives, accompanied them to the cemetery, and stood by, quietly hooting behind our paws, as they did their thing with Cletus’s (presumed) ashes. They were happy, I had done my duty as I saw it, and we continued home in satisfaction, knowing we had the mother of all dead relatives story.