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Keeper of the Urn

by MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE

After cremation, the ashes are put in a bag and then boxed or placed in an urn for the home, somewhere, anywhere, including under the ground. My father was a veteran and wanted some of his remains at the national cemetery. And it’s a rule there–you want a headstone, some remains must be buried. So, a portion of Daddy’s remains was buried in a black box and the rest resided in an urn at my sister Laura’s.

Laura, a member of the sisterhood that travels by the seat of its pants, picked up Mother’s ashes on Wednesday after stopping by Camp Nelson National Cemetery to tell Daddy he better prepare for Mother’s arrival the next day. When Laura came home, she and I opened Daddy’s urn and Mother’s plastic box.

Laura: “Hmm, Mother’s ashes are a little darker than Daddy’s.”

Missy: “That’s cause Mother’s French roast.”

We were laughing and crying, by the seat of our pants.

We began scooping from the urn and the box and blending in another container, uniting our parents, and, then, distributing their togetherness in Baggies for scattering at significant locations. We had to leave enough of Mother’s cremains in her black box for burial—you know, the rule. We put the rest of their magic in Daddy’s urn.

Throughout the small family service on April 21st, I played “Ode to Joy”. Laura read Mother’s favorite poem, its title a mystery, something she kept in her Bible. I read The Profit, from the section on love: “To know the pain of too much tenderness.” Niece Laine read The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, but the real take-a-piece-of-our-hearts moment was brother Richard’s reading a love note Daddy had written on their 25th wedding anniversary.

Later that day, the sisterhood, Laura, Erma, and I, began the assignment Mother and Daddy had directed. We took the Baggies, sprinkling ashes in the lilacs in front of Laura and Erma’s house, the house where our parents moved when they could no longer care for themselves and where they died.

Then, we powered the car. First stop: Pollard, the rural community where our father was raised and where our family spent many Sunday afternoons after church. We went to Daddy’s home place, or to the land, the old house long gone, replaced with something new. Laura ignored the “NO TRESPASSING” sign, climbed the fence, and freed a handful of our parents.

Next, we went to a family cemetery and encircled our fraternal great grandparents’ tombstone with ashes.

The biggest challenge was the yard where Mother and Daddy had their garden wedding. Mother liked to say that’s where it all began. We pulled in the driveway, eyeing an intimidating wall, a fortress, around the yard. More daunting: the car in the driveway and an open front door. Erma suggested the rational: that we get permission. She and I watched from the car as Laura talked with the owner. When he and Laura hugged, I began to cry. He opened the gate and the three of us took turns, walking and releasing ashes that danced and swirled in the gentle wind before resting in the grass. I could almost hear them say, “I do”.

Friday, we were under a tornado warning, huddled in the hall in the middle of the night. I think Mother and Daddy were making passionate, lightning-hot love after not having seen each other in a little over two years.

On Saturday, the sisterhood loaded the “Lesbaru” for a road trip to Chapel Hill and Baltimore. The urn accompanied us, along with a copy of the love note Richard read.

I’m the keeper of the urn. The fate of its contents will be determined later. Because I’m living by the seat of my pants.

Now, I’m sitting in a lovely Chapel Hill hotel room with a balcony where Laura, Erma, and I have made a Champagne toast to our parents each afternoon. And to love.

Tomorrow, the sisterhood and the urn, leave for Baltimore.

Wednesday, April 27th: We arrived to tornado watches and warnings across the state—actually, across the country. There have been more than 800 tornado reports this April, a record number.

Laura turned on the weather channel while I accessed Internet articles. Saw that an Afghan military pilot killed eight US troops and a contractor. Seems Afghans are growing weary of American “good intentions” lasting now a decade.

Also read that B. Obama put that long-form birth certificate on the altar of cred (how styoopid), laying to rest the ambiguity surrounding the location of his birth. He said he “normally wouldn’t comment on something like this.” And further: “We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do.”

Shameful this “better stuff” translates to obliterating the middle class, droning, war expansion, neo-conservatism//Zionism, and a big YES to nuclear power and deep-water drilling. Obama deserves a mission-accomplished moment for continuing G. Bush’s “Bring ’em on”.

If only “better stuff” meant job creation and ending war instead of bailing out Wall St. banksters and devastating the planet.

We, the sisterhood, believe our parents left Earth’s man-made mess at exactly the right time and will raise a glass to them, again, this afternoon.

Missy Beattie supports Compassion and Choices and Final Exit Network as well as finally exiting war, and the prosecution of war criminals and corporate criminals. She can be reached at missybeat@gmail.com.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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