My sister-in-law, Gloriosa, is making arrangements to bury her mother, Larda Gunch.
Problem is, Ms. Larda ain’t dead. Not even close.
Gloriosa always thinks ahead.
She come up with this idea on All Saints’ Day. November is a weird month in New Orleans. We start off thinking about the dead and end up giving thanks that we ain’t.
Anyway, Gloriosa knows Ms. Larda can’t last forever. What if she plops over like a tree, without no warning at all? In New Orleans, you can’t just plant the dearly departed six feet under like they do in normal places. We got a water table here. You got to buy a tomb or at least a raised grave with edging like a flower bed, or if you’re budget-minded, one of them holes in the cemetery wall. (This is where the expression “hole-in-the-wall” comes from.)
Ms. Larda is from lower St. Bernard, so her own family’s tomb went underwater years ago. And she already told us she ain’t going in her late husband Gomer’s family tomb alongside her mother-in-law, who she couldn’t stand.
All Ms. Larda’s friends swear by the funeral home at Bosom of the Lord Cemetery & Crematory, so Gloriosa calls and makes an appointment with their Memorial Facilitator. She asks me to go to this appointment with her.
I done this kind of thing before. When Ms. Larda’s Aunt Bovette met her Maker up in Cleveland, me and Ms. Larda went there to get her ashes (funeral home people called them “cremains,” like it was a health cereal). We dealt with a very soothing Memorial Facilitator named Lavinia Sedeworth, who used expressions like “dearly beloved” and “received her angel’s wings.” The words “dead body” never passed her lips.
So I think I know what to expect.
Wrong. The Bosom Memorial Facilitator turns out to be Trixie Finkey. She clicks into the Planning Room wearing stiletto heels and whips out a calculator. Gloriosa tilts her head toward me. “My sister-in-law needs to make her final arrangements,” she says.
Me? Gloriosa makes shushing motions. Trixie just cracks her gum, all business. “Cremation’s the big thing now,” she says. “For $2,000, we cremate you – she points at me – then call your family and they take you away. Urn is extra.
“For $3,000, we cremate you – points again – call your family, have a ceremony and then they take you away. Urn extra.
“Deluxe. $5,500. We embalm you, have a viewing and a ceremony, then cremate you and call the family and they take you away.
“If nobody wants your ashes, we can sell you a niche in our mausoleum. Cheapest is the top row. Way up there by the ceiling, but so what? You’re dead.”
Gloriosa is writing it all down. “What if she got burial insurance?” she asks. “Probably won’t get you more than a cigar box,” Trixie says.
Then she starts on prices for not cremating me: Casket, tomb, wall vault … I get the shivers.
Afterward, Gloriosa explains she didn’t want to mention it was for her mother because it seemed morbid. And we got all the facts, no pussyfooting around.
I could have stood some pussyfooting.
And we forgot one thing. New Orleans may be a famous city, but it’s also a small town. Trixie’s mama knows Ms. Larda from the altar society. And Trixie has a big mouth. Two days later Ms. Larda shows up at my door, wanting to know what dread disease I have come down with.
I can’t think of a lie quick enough, so I blurt out the truth. Well, Ms. Larda looks so shocked, I run get her a Diet Coke.
Then she chokes out, “Gloriosa thinks I ain’t made my own arrangements? Who taught her to finish her Christmas shopping in July?”
Come to find out, Ms. Larda already sat down with Trixie and took care of everything.
“I even picked out my complimentary urn. Black, because it’s slimming. For once I’ll be tall and thin,” she says.
She ain’t going in no hole in the wall, neither. She had a talk with my gentleman friend Lust, who owns the Sloth Lounge. She is going up on the shelf behind the bar, above the cash register.
“Nobody goes to graveyards no more. But they still go to bars. This way, nobody got to bring flowers or nothing. They can just drink to me.”
So here’s to you, Ms. Larda.