Grandma Ireland and Third Husband Irving
Last year for Valentine's Day I published one of my Dad's stories about his Mother In Law called The Contest. I always get a kick out of that story. This year, I've got another great story about my Grandma. I think I think of her at Valentine's Day because she managed to find love three times. And nothing says love more like a hand made urn.
Dry Ridge Cemetery
by Bruce H. Mero
To this day I still do not know why Allegra had the cremated ashes of her late husband sent to our house. The box appeared, unceremoniously in our mail box one morning, addressed to Gretchen. It was about half the size of a shoebox, plain brown and the only clue to the contents was the return address of a downstate crematorium. Undecided as to where to ship Paul's remains, Gretchen's mom sent them to our address. Why not a funeral home somewhere, I questioned my spouse, to which I got shrugged shoulders. She had no clue either. Only vaguely she remembered a conversation on the subject with her mother some time ago and that the ashes were being sent to us.
Paul died several months earlier. I don't recall calling hours or a memorial service for him at the time. He had been ill for a long while before his death. In declining health, he sold his New York City apartment and Paul and Allegra moved to a house she bought in a town nearby her Lake George summer cottage.
The box arrived. Several telephone conversations between Gretchen and her mom ensued. Allegra agreed to make arrangements for internment if Gretchen agreed to procure a proper container for Paul's ashes. The burial urns that Allegra had seen at Funeral homes were too extravagant and expensive. She asked Gretchen to find a suitable container. That endeavor eventually landed us at the studio of a local potter where she looked over his inventory and decided on a particularly nice pot with a lid. The potter was not delighted when told the eventual use for his creation, however Gretchen paid his asking price and took her purchase home. I thought, at the time, that she'd paid way too much for the pot, though ultimately learned that the cost of the pot was about a quarter of the going price for urns at local funeral parlors.
It seemed to take a lot longer that it should have taken, eventually though Allegra made arrangements to have Paul's ashes interred. Ultimately, she was able to ascertain that Paul's deceased first wife was buried in a cemetery near New York City and that it had been Paul's intention to be buried alongside. We agreed to meet Allegra at the cemetery at a specific date and time. We were to bring Paul's ashes and the pot. Allegra had spoken to a funeral director in a town near the cemetery who would meet us there. We would pass off the box of ashes and the pot, he agreed to take care of the rest.
The day arrived and Gretchen and I drove four hours downstate to the Dry Ridge Cemetery, just north of the city limits. We wandered around a bit and found the memorial stone atop the plot where Paul's first wife was buried. Paul's name had been carved into the stone, next to his wife's.
It was still an hour or so before the internment was to take place however, several of Paul's kin were already gathered. We introduced ourselves, chatted briefly, then begged off with the excuse that we were meeting Gretchen's mom in a parking lot nearby the cemetery gate.
An eternity seemed to pass...no Allegra nor Funeral Director. More relatives arrived. The designated time arrived. Still no sign of Allegra or the Funeral Director. Gretchen and I then decided that we might buy a little time if I was to find an appropriate tool and dig the hole for the burial. I had noticed the caretaker's shed on our search for Paul's stone, returned there and found the door unlocked. Inside I located a post hole digger, which I took to where the dozen or so of relatives were gathered. In front of the stone I dug a hole large enough to hold the pot we had brought with us. When I was finished, I leaned the post hole digger behind a nearby tree and returned to the car where Gretchen was waiting. Still, neither Allegra nor the Funeral Director had arrived.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty. It was now thirty minutes after the appointed time. Desperate, we decided to take matters into our own hands. Out of sight behind our car, we opened the box. Inside was a plastic bag stuffed with ashes. Stapled to the bag was a large yellow tag which I tore off and shoved into my pocket, in the process, ripping open the plastic bag. Some of the ashes spilled onto the ground. Carefully, Gretchen tore the bag a little more. I held the pot while she dumped the contents of the plastic bag into the potter's jar she had purchased. Now, in life, Paul was a very large man and very quickly we found that the pot she'd purchased was too small to contain all of his ashes...it overflowed onto my hands and shoes and onto the ground. Half a coffee can of Paul now lay in the parking lot. A slight breeze sent ashes swirling around our shoes. At that moment we heard voices and looked up to see several of Paul's relatives approaching our car. Gretchen put the lid on the pot and blew ashes off the side of the urn as she stood up. I patted the dust from my hands and shuffled my feet to spread the spilled ashes into the gravel and also stood up. Gretchen kicked the box and plastic bag under the car as a gentleman approached, stuck out his hand to shake hands with me and introduced himself as Paul's nephew. Several of the other folks had previous commitments that morning, he explained, and everyone was wondering when we expected Allegra and the Funeral Director to arrive so we could get started. Gretchen held up the pot containing the ashes (most of them anyways) and told the man that we need not wait any longer, we had Paul's remains with us and could start the proceedings right now.
She walked ceremoniously toward the memorial stone carrying the pot in her outstretched hands. She bent down and placed the urn into the hole I'd dug earlier, then took a handful of dirt and let it slip slowly through her fingers and onto the pot. She stood up and paused for a long moment in front of the stone, then stepped aside. I stepped forward and did exactly the same thing. Paul's relatives all followed suit. By the time the last of his kin had placed their handful of dirt and paid his respects, the pot was covered. I used the post hole digger to shovel the remaining dirt into the hole and gently patted the top with my palm.
It was over in minutes. As the folks that were gathered began to walk to their cars, a hearse drove into the parking lot. Allegra and the Funeral Director had arrived, finally. He explained that Allegra had confused the name of the cemetery and they had been waiting for us at the Dry Hill Cemetery in the next town. Realizing the error, they sped here.
Gretchen recounted what we had done. Allegra greeted several of the remaining relatives, explaining her confusion with the name of the cemetery. The Funeral Director asked to see the box in which the ashes had been sent. He was looking to find the yellow tag that I had ripped from the plastic bag and shoved into my pocket...apparently it was a burial certificate that needed to be filed with the state affirming that the ashes had been properly buried. He needed to sign it and mail it back. He then had the gall to ask Allegra to pay him the fee they'd previously agreed upon for his services.