Wednesday, June 7

Dust to Dust

There's nothing like working for a funeral home to give you good stories...
The box would be empty
Except for the memory

When I met my husband, he was a student supplementing his income by living at the local firehall, where rent was free, and there were good wages for time spent fighting fires. His best friend Steve from back home lived there, too, and he had yet another job--he did a little contract work for the local funeral home, transporting bodies from Canada, for instance, or digging graves.

There's nothing like working for a funeral home to give you good stories, and Steve was a master storyteller. As you can imagine, work like that can make someone a little casual about things the rest of us are squeamish about, so sometimes the stories could seem just a little disrespectful in their bluntness, but if you knew Steve, you understood that underneath the plain talk, the stories haunted him, and none more than this one.

One day, the funeral home got a request from an elderly lady. She wanted them to finally do something she'd been longing to have done for many years, but hadn't been able to pay for. Her first child had been born when she was young and newly married, and he had died when he was only a couple of months old. Times were tough, and there was no money for a cemetery burial, so her husband had placed the baby in a small wooden box and buried it in the backyard of the little house they lived in.

More children were born and life went on. The house got too small and they moved to a bigger one, but they'd had to leave the buried baby behind on their old property. She'd always wanted to have him buried someplace closer to them, but it had never happened. Maybe her husband didn't consider it important, or maybe money was always too tight.

Her husband died, and a couple of her grown children died, and now there was a family burial plot in the local cemetery. It was the time, she decided, to do what she'd been aching to do for fifty years or more--move her first baby's body to a more suitable place alongside the others from the family who had died. And that's what Steve was asked to do.

So he dug a tiny grave in the family cemetery spot, and went to the old homestead to retreive the baby. He dug down at the old grave, but there was nothing.

I take that back. There were some small fragments of rotting wood, enough to tell him that the spot was right. So he carefully placed all the fragments of wood that he could find into another little box and buried it in the wee grave in the cemetery beside the father and other family members.

And an old woman was comforted, because after all those years, she'd finally been able to do right by her firstborn.