Arriving a week early for my Wednesday afternoon book club, I hung out with my surprised host and writer friend, Susan. After a few jokes about my being early for a change, we got to the subject of books. “I’m tired of reading so many depressing novels,” I told her. “How about reading something funny for a change?”
“I agree with you,” she said. “I know you like to write funny stuff. By the way, whatever happened to that story of yours about scattering your mother’s ashes?”
“Oh, that,” I answered. “It’s floating around somewhere.”
GOGGIE And The BOAT RIDE
When my mother died, she left a simple will. Among her requests she asked that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Somewhere My Love” be sung at her funeral, and that her ashes be scattered in the Gulf of Mexico. True to Goggie’s wishes, I arranged for the unlikely pair of songs to be sandwiched in between hymns at her memorial service.
The distribution of ashes was attempted one pretty spring day the following April. It took more than a little coordination to set the scene since it required 1. a boat, and 2. as many of the family members as possible. My daughter, Tracy, arranged for the rite to be held on a small cabin cruiser owned by her boyfriend’s parents.
Somehow I managed to assemble most of the immediate family that Sunday afternoon. The six family members included Tracy, sisters Jenny and Lisa, plus baby Lauren, my seventy-eight-year-old father, and myself. Tracy’s boyfriend, Buzzie, was our captain.
Things began quite nicely. Buzzie pushed off from his parents’ dock, effortlessly maneuvering the blue and white cruiser through the quiet Intercoastal Waterway out into the choppy Gulf. On the bridge of the boat we exalted in the sunny breezy weather, all except for my father who remained shivering in the cabin below. With blood as thin as water, he can not bear so much as a whisper of a breeze, so wears three T-shirts and a Windbreaker, even on a ninety-degree day.
Soon we came to a likely looking spot where Buzzie dropped anchor. Ready to get on with our little ceremony, I went down into the cabin. “Dad, we’re ready to scatter Mom’s ashes now,” I announced, peeking in.
My father looked up, confusion written all over his face. “Laura, I don’t think that these are your mother’s ashes.” He pointed to some hand lettering on the small cardboard box he held in his lap. “This printing says ‘Slatter,’ not ‘McClain.’ We got someone else’s ashes by mistake!”
“Oh, no!” I said. Oh damn, I thought.
It was all my fault. Not one for detail, and not being able to read anything without my glasses, I had blithely signed for the wrong box of ashes at the funeral home. Poor Goggie. Where was she? We had the ashes of someone named Slatter, and the Slatter family had Goggie, and God only knew what they had done with her.
I climbed to the bridge, guilty and miserable. The whole trip had been for nothing. Maybe we should just throw the ashes overboard anyway. What was the difference? Goggie was in heaven; she certainly wasn’t in some box. She was probably looking down at us this very second getting a big kick over the whole disaster.
Frantically I searched for the right words to break the news to my expectant crew. But all I could think of were the lines from the Walt Whitman poem I’d been forced to memorize in the sixth grade.
“O Captain, my Captain, Our fearful trip is done. The ship has weathered every rack, The prize we sought is won.”
Buzzie took the setback the best. Without a word, he pulled up anchor and headed back to shore. Downcast, I sat in in silence until we reached Buzzie’s house. (To be continued!)