Nothing is easy these days. Not even plopping over dead.
I know this because Aunt Bovette from Ohio just did it. It ain’t too tragic thought, because she was 97 and charming as a meter maid with sore feet.
I first met her at my own wedding. She showed up just as I was about to walk down the aisle and said, “You’re going to wear that?”
When my first baby was born, she looked at her and said, “Sometimes they get cuter. Sometimes not.”
When I heard she had kicked the bucket, I thought, “Whose bucket?”
But she pushed her luck, I guess, when she leaned out her window with a broom to clobber a squirrel in a tree. She was still clutching her broom when she fell, but even that didn’t save her.
So my mother-in-law Ms. Larda, her nearest relative, has to go to Ohio and claim her cremains. That is what they call remains that are cremated. They probably got the idea from the people who decided raisins made out of cranberries should be called craisins.
Bovette pre-arranged her cremation. (I guess nobody post-arranges one.) She had her reasons.
For one, there was the bosom issue. The ladies in Ms. Larda’s family were all given the gift of big bosoms, but even those weren’t big enough for Bovette, who was in the habit of marrying up. She had seven husbands, each one richer than the last, and to maintain that momentum as she got older, she had to enhance her assets – chest-wise. Later, she heard that when you are laid out in your casket, fake bosoms stand up straight, like mountain peaks, instead of slithering over to the side, like natural boobs. She didn’t want people clustering around her coffin, elbowing each other and saying “Uh-huh …”
Plus there was the incident at Aunt Heftina’s funeral. Ms. Larda’s family has a tomb in St. Louis III. Like most family tombs in New Orleans, it has a grate, and before they put a new coffin in, they just empty the remains of the last occupant through the grate. As long as family members got the decency to die a reasonable length of time apart, it works fine. And Heftina died a good five years after great-aunt Dottie. But Bovette happened to glance into the tomb when they were about to shove in Heftina’s coffin, and there was Dottie’s red wig, perched on the grate, all teased and curled, ready for a night on the town. I don’t know what that wig was made of, and I don’t know if it was anything like what sat on top of Bovette’s head, but then and there she decided to be cremated when the time came. Let her secrets die with her.
Ms. Larda says that now you need a grandkid just to get an airline ticket. So she comes over and puts my daughter Gladiola to work on the computer, to figure out the flights and times and prices and the newest security decrees. And she asks her to include me in; she might need me.
While Gladiola is doing that, Larda points at my flip-flop sandals. “That reminds me, we better wear our thongs, so we can kick them off quick at security, Modine,” she says to me.
Gladiola looks up with big round eyes. “They make you strip?” she whispers. I explain that her grandma meant sandals, not them skimpy underdrawers that Gladiola calls thongs, but it takes her a while to settle down. She says it’ll take 10 years of therapy to erase that image from her mind.
Anyway, we finally get on the plane with our drawers on, buckled into our seats and get told we can’t go to the bathroom until the captain says so. It is like Celibacy Academy all over again. But there are advantages to traveling with Ms. Larda. She ain’t going to wait like her life depended on a one-ounce bag of peanuts. As soon as we take off, she breaks out a bucket of fried chicken – enough to share with everyone in the adjacent four rows, because she can’t stand to see other people drooling.
It is a happy flight. Everybody burps when we land. Ms. Larda carries the empty chicken bucket off the plane; says it might come in handy. I don’t want to think what for.
At the Good Night Irene Mortuary, we meet Lavinia Soothsayer, the Mourner Coordinator. She escorts us to an office awash in floral arrangements, glides behind a mahogany desk and says she has to bother us with a few inquiries. First, “When did The Dearly Beloved receive her angel wings?”
We stare at her. Lavinia tries again. “When did The Beloved commence her heavenly journey?” Finally I get it. I blurt out to Ms. Larda, “When did Bovette croak?”
Then she wants to know The Beloved’s weight, because they charge extra for corpulent Beloveds. I wonder if it’s worth going on a diet to save a few bucks when you’re dead, but Ms. Larda says The Beloved was skinny as a rail, except for her bosom. Then Lavinia wants to know how The Beloved will be inurned. I am waiting for Ms. Larda to bring out the fried chicken bucket, but it turns out Bovette already paid for her urn.
It is enormous and shaped kind of like her, very big on top. We can’t fit it in our carry-on luggage, so we jam it in Ms. Larda’s suitcase to be checked. To make room, Ms. Larda packs her underwear in the chicken bucket. So it did come in handy.
But when we collect our luggage at home, the suitcase ain’t there. Bovette might be in Timbuktu, for all we know. Ms. Larda ain’t too upset, because Bovette always loved to travel, plus the airline gave her a nice settlement, which she split with me.
I ain’t spending it on no boob job.