The traditional time to die in my family is in the spring or summer. I believe it has to do with one of our dominant genes that makes us really like making folks feel uncomfortable. Funerals are uncomfortable enough but when you throw in some good ol’ Georgia heat and humidity and a black wool suit you have a real recipe for extreme discomfort. Throw in a couple of deviled eggs wafting in the nonexistent breeze with some wilting lilies and good times here we come!
My Aunt June decided to depart one sweltering July when I was a teenager. She was one of my favorite family members and I have fond memories of playing video games at her house when I was younger. She would buy the latest video game consoles and had no problem with my brothers and me playing until our eyes were red and saliva dripped out of our gaping mouths. She would feed us cookies and talk about the stock market. I wish I would have listened to her instead of focusing on the cookies, but what can you do.
When Aunt June died, she lived in Cleveland, Ohio, and requested to be buried in her hometown in Georgia. Everyone I have ever known of blood relation has been cremated so it wasn’t that big of a deal to burn her up and fly her down. I can remember being very intrigued by the whole ordeal and when the mailman came to the door with a small but heavy package I remember announcing, “June’s here!” like it was any other visitor.
June was somewhat frugal and had expressed that we cut out all the middlemen when it came to her burial. She did not want a funeral home involved. We did not even know if that was possible. Can you just bury someone’s remains in your family’s plot? Not sure about now, but back then the answer was yes, if you had the proper authority and permits.
I thought it was a great idea. We didn’t have to worry about the creepiness of the funeral home. We could do our own, weird, intimate thing. Although I realized we would not have the luxury of one of those massive funeral home tents, which are essential to a Southern funeral in the summer. We would also be without those Jesus-themed fans that are just a picture of Jesus with a popsicle stick attached to it. We had to do something about that. No fans, no funeral.
After we received the proper documentation from the authorities we loaded up in my dad’s big red van and made it out to the family plot in the sprawling local cemetery. It was midafternoon and my dad handed us each a shovel and told us where to dig. It wasn’t supposed to take a long time, the hole only had to be 3 or so feet deep and rather narrow for the small marble urn that housed our dear, departed June.
The minute our shovels hit the dried-up brown grass the familiar “clink” of steel hitting solid, sun-baked clay rang through the obelisks. We had a problem. It had not rained for a month. The ground might as well have been a palette of bricks. After some obscenities and head-scratching, my father grabbed a couple of crowbars and a five-foot post hole rod from the treasure trove of tools he housed in the back of his van. For the next couple of hours, we sweated away, chiseling out June’s final resting place bit by bit. The only thing that kept us from not murdering each other was knowing that June was probably looking down on us having quite a laugh.
When we had chipped away a perfectly square hole I thought we were done, but my dad kept going. He dug a small cylinder hole in the middle of the square. Then he went to his van and pulled out a bag with a pint of bourbon and a pack of cigarettes put them in the cylinder and covered it up. One of June’s favorite pastimes was drinking a nonalcoholic beer and chasing it with a shot of bourbon. I still can’t wrap my head around that one. She was also an avid smoker, probably what killed her in the first place. For whatever reason, my dad thought she would need that in the afterlife, and seeing that we couldn’t put quarters on her eyes maybe she could trade the booze to the ferryman for passage over the River Styx.
The next day we donned our funeral attire, hydrated accordingly, and carried the urn to the cemetery. My mom surprised us by setting up a small canopy before we got there and we also made fans out of paper and wrote “Walter Funeral Home” on them. The service was pretty rough around the edges, but it wasn’t quite amateur hour. We lowered June into her hard clay resting place above her secret chamber of contraband and read a few Bible verses and headed home for some deviled eggs. I may never know for sure but I think she probably enjoyed every minute of that awkward charade.