88. Where’s Mama?

88. Where’s Mama?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Where’s Mama?

I wish to be cremated. One tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract.

~Groucho Marx

You would have loved my sister, Audrey. I did. At least most of the time, even if she did have some very strange ideas about what was right. That’s how Mama wound up sitting on the top shelf of Audrey’s bookcase.

“I’ve decided to buy a fancy enameled vase,” Audrey said.

Now I was totally confused. “What happened to the fireworks idea? I thought you were serious.”

She rolled her eyes as if she thought I was dumber than dirt. “I was. Only Mikey couldn’t get the explosives permit as easily as he thought he could and he won’t shoot her out of the cannon without it.”

“Smart Mikey. I told you I’d have paid up front to have her ashes scattered professionally. I promised you that long before Mama died.”

“I know. I just thought she’d be happier to go out with a bang.”

No, you just wanted to do this all your way, I thought, keeping my opinion to myself. Mama and my sister had spent the previous twenty-five years living together and I guess that entitled them to decide how these arrangements were to be handled.

“Fine,” I said. “Do it your way. Just leave me out of it.”

“You don’t want part of…”

“No!” This was not the first time this subject had come up and I was more than ready to speak my mind in this instance. Besides, I wasn’t sure what was going on in my sister’s head. It had occurred to me, more than once, that her attachment to our mother was such that she was having trouble letting her go. Literally.

Audrey shrugged, said, “Okay. Have it your way,” and I thought the discussion was closed. Boy, was I wrong. It wasn’t over; it was just postponed for a few years. That didn’t keep her from acting peculiar from time to time, though.

When Mom was alive, she’d loved holidays. A lot. That was the reason my sister gave for “decorating” the gaudy funeral urn with party hats, bunny ears and various “fun” things like tinsel and ornaments at Christmas. No, I’m not kidding. Who would make up something this bizarre?

Anyway, I had almost gotten to the point where I could visit my sister and overlook the big, blue-and-gold enameled urn, when I got the latest surprise.

“I found two smaller jars for Mom,” Audrey said. “That way you can have one and I can keep one. Isn’t that great?”

I nearly swallowed my teeth. “Great? Not hardly. I don’t want anything to do with it,” I said. “As far as I’m concerned, Mom’s gone to heaven, just like she wanted to. She’s not here anymore. And the stuff left over is just dust, like the Bible says.”

I thought I’d made my point. My sister turned without a word, left the room and returned cradling the two new, sealed urns. They were prettier than the bigger one but I still wasn’t about to sit the dust of my mother on my bookcase like a shrine, the way my sister did.

“You sure?” she asked, sounding as if she were resigned to my refusal.

“Positive. Those are very pretty. I just don’t want one.”

“Okay,” Audrey said with a shrug. “But these weren’t quite as big inside as I’d thought.” She held up a plastic baggie. “And I had a little left over. You can take this, instead.”

I gasped. Mama in a sandwich bag? How inappropriate was that? I regained my lost voice and manage to croak out, “Only if I can scatter the ashes like Daddy’s.”

“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” Audrey insisted. “It wouldn’t be right.”

She replaced both urns—and the little bag—on the top shelf of her bookcase where they still reside. And, now, she sits beside them in a jar of her own. I like to think that she and Mom are somewhere in heaven, looking down and laughing at me as I write this.

That’s the way I choose to remember both of them.

~Valerie Whisenand

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