Sunday, November 1, 2009

Old Home Place

Today, we put my father's ashes in the ground. I feel an immense sense of relief - I've fulfilled one of my final promises to him, plus his ashes aren't sitting in Prof's living room any more. I'm not even going to comment on how creepy it is to have your dead father in a plastic box while ghosts and vampires are knocking on the door begging for candy.

Ok. I am going to comment. It IS creepy. Creepy, creepy, creepy. Enough on that.

Several days before dad was unable to speak anymore (and on the day that I had made his funeral arrangements - I never got to tell him what a deal I had gotten) I asked him where he wanted his ashes to be put. He was fairly noncommittal, but thought that somewhere in the small rural crossroads that he had grown up in or on the family farm would be a good place.

Well, I tossed out the idea of the family farm immediately. The farm was auctioned off in the early 60's. My great-grandparents hadn't made a will, so when they died, the 13 grandchildren squabbled about who would get what. As a result, everything was auctioned off, including the 16th century stone farmhouse, and each sibling got a paltry amount of money. My father was always bitter about it. He worked the farm as a child, rising before dawn to milk the cows and spending summers cutting hay, and walking uphill to school both ways, and I guess thought he would someday have a share in it. He never talked about it much, but I'm sure the bitterness backed up on it as he was struggling to pay for a mortgage and braces in the Reagan recession years by selling American made cars that people wanted to buy less than they want to buy Hummers today.

But my mom didn't toss out the idea. In typical mom style, she was undeterred by the fact that the farm no longer belonged to my family, or that we didn't know the family that owned it. Last weekend, she drove up there, saw a sale sign out front, marched up to the door, chatted with the elderly man that lives there and secured both a tour of the historic house and a place for my dad anywhere on the property. I was incredulous when she told me. That woman is persistent; and while mostly annoying (like in the case of the great chicken salad incident of 2009), sometimes it pays off.

So, today, mom, brother and me drove up there with mom's boyfriend and brother's lab puppy in tow to tour the house and find a spot for my dad to spend the rest of eternity. Boyfriend and puppy stayed in the car. Mom's boyfriend is a perfectly nice man who have never said a bad word about my father (even though he had reason to) but it would have been weird to have him physically with us as we dealt with the ashes. So, I was relieved when he stayed behind.

Mr. L greeted us with probably the oldest German Shepard I've have ever seen. My brother and I introduced ourselves, then we went into the old house for the first time ever. My great-grandparents lived and worked there. My dad grew up in a house embedded in the hill below (since condemned and demolished) and spent lots of time in the old house with his grandparents. The house looked huge from the outside, but was small and cramped inside. I guess because the walls are so thick? It smelled like old. Old people. Old stuff. Old books. Old wood. It had been renovated in the 70's, but needs some updating now. Too bad its hours away from my job. And is listed at 900k. Sheesh. Its not that nice. But with the land, and the views, my god, the views, its probably worth every penny.

After the house tour, we grabbed a shovel and the ash box out of the car and walked around looking for a good spot. I had initially thought that down the hill by the stream would be a good place, but changed my mind when we got to the very highest point on the property, where the entrance to the milking barn used to be. It was breathtaking. The sun had come out after days and days of rain. The leaves on the trees below were gold and auburn and orange. You could see the stream, and all the rolling hills that Dad used to look at back in the day, only occasionally interrupted by a disgustingly large and out of place McMansion. That was the spot. It was perfect.

Brother dug a small hole, and I opened the box, feeling a little sick. Seriously - all that is left of dad is in this tiny little box, in a bag closed off with a twist tie. A twist tie! I didn't really know what to expect, but the ashes weren't really ashy. More grainy. It freaked me out a bit. But, I gritted my teeth and emptied the bag into the hole. Old German Shepherd nosed his way in a couple times. I'm sure he smelled bone and wanted a piece, but we managed to get the hole covered before he got in there. God, I hope that dog doesn't dig it up.

I didn't know what we were going to do after we placed the ashes. Were we going to say nice things? A little prayer (not that we know any)? We hadn't talked about it. I figured I would just let it happen organically. And it did. I think I just said "I brought you home Dad" and that was it. I teared up a little, as did my mom. My brother remained stoic and perhaps slightly annoyed. That was it. No hysterics. No prayers. No speeches. Just a hole, some ashes, some flowers and a nosy dog.

We made our exit quickly, thanking Mr. L profusely and wishing him luck at the 55+ community he will be moving to. And now its over. And I still haven't lost my shit. I'm beginning to think I have no tears left.


Ms Behaviour said...

You do. You know they're in there. Maybe walk around with a box of Puffs Plus with lotion for the next little while? Just in case. And when you get to the ugly cry, know that I sent hugs out into the Universe in advance.

erin said...

I agree, the losing-your-shit tears will come when they're supposed to. And don't worry about it, it's all part of the process. It's a shitty process for sure, but you will be OK. Also sending you hugs both for right now and for the ugly cry, when it comes.