Once while visiting her, her youngest sister (then in her sixties) was present. “Nana,” as we called my grandmother, went off on some ridiculous tangent about THEIR sister not leaving them a penny when she died, having accumulated “a chain of whorehouses that the state got hold of.” Both her sister and I nodded in agreement until Nana fell asleep. Out in the hallway, I lamented to my great aunt about how difficult it is for me to see my grandmother this way, just rambling incoherently. She said, “What do you mean? You didn’t know about any of that?” Their heretofore unmentioned entrepreneurial sister ran a business that serviced Northeast Pennsylvania coal miners in back in the day. I have every reason to believe that Nana is living as colorful an afterlife as she did in her physical life!
When she died, it was decided to bury her ashes at her parents’ gravesite. My family has cremated most of its kin, for reasons of economy, they’ve said. In retrospect and since they all hated funerals as much as I do, I suspect the real reason is because they cannot bear to see their relation in a coffin surrounded by flowers. Many folks just don’t like long goodbyes. Seeing their loved one die gave them all the sense of closure they needed. Disposal of the body was a simple housekeeping task.
I don’t even know where the cremation was done (some details we just block out, you know?). I do remember, however, my parents asking me to bury the ashes. My first thought was to do this in some romantic fashion, such as scattering them across several farmers’ fields where she had us, as children, steal corn. She’d pull the car over to the side of the road and throw a bag at us: “Fill this up—they’ll never miss it!” However, the family thought it fitting to bury her ashes at her parents’ grave. Now this isn’t as “normal” as it may sound. Her parents’ grave stone had been originally stolen by her two brothers, a nice red marble "model" lifted from a monument dealer's display. They took it to a different stone carver to have it engraved.
|Photo by Tim Snyder|
Doing this illegally just runs in my family’s blood, I guess. As much as I enjoyed them all, they were either criminals, liars, or drunks, and sometimes all three--actual descendants of Molly Maguires gone awry. Once when paying a surprise visit to Nana’s brother, “Uncle Joe,” in Maryland, we found his house burned and boarded up. At about fourteen, I remember walking into the Glen Burnie police station with her as she went up to the officer at the front desk and said (and I’m sure she had no idea of his rank), “Sergeant, we’re looking for Joseph Wilkes.” Without even looking up from his paperwork, he replied, “Who ISN’T, lady?” We slunk out of there.