Nobody's Property Episode 05: Living on the Remains

A few years ago, my father told me the story of how my Aunt Jenny's remains were shipped back to be put into different ground. Dad called me from Oklahoma to describe how my grandmother Edith stood by while workers dug up the urn from under the small brass marker that barely wrinkled the surface of the grass in Oak Park Cemetery. They opened the urn; Edith looked inside. I could see her standing there, in a tasteful suit and stockings and pumps, her light hair neatly and stiffly styled, bowing her head to see.

“There were actually quite large bone fragments mixed with the ashes," Dad said. The urn was too heavy for Edith to take on the plane from California to Oklahoma. So she shipped it U.P.S. Ground.

Music by Kristin Hersh: or

Some names may have been changed; I can't really remember.


  1. Last week was busy; can you tell from all the heavy breathing? Also, I had trouble putting this one out there....

    Well, back on that horse!

  2. This episode strikes some sparks.

    Storms, and how we deal with them:

    One becomes intimate with storms at an early age growing up in Oklahoma. Same goes for growing up with Charles. There are four approaches to avoiding them depending on whether it’s a thunderstorm (blue-gray sky) or a tornado (bruised green sky, funnel usually backlit, except at night when all you have is TV radar or the radio…it’s important to understand where you live, in that case). More important, it depends on whether you’re mobile or stuck. This really requires a table but here goes:

    1. Hunker down: go inside, open a window leeward, and turn off anything electric, catch up on your reading by candlelight; on the road, pull under an overpass and park, let it pass.
    2. Bull it through: Black Elk tells the tale of how bison charge a storm in anticipation of the blue skies and green grass just the other side. I’ve recommended this tactic to friends and loved ones in times of trouble despite my skepticism that skies clear and grass grows that fast. Seems to cheer them up.

    1. Jump in the car and find a road that leads away laterally to the path of the funnel. Never, repeat NEVER, drive in the “opposite direction”. You can’t watch the funnel and the funnel will find you more often than not. My guess is that bison have figured this out.
    2. Hunker down: Madness, generally speaking. But if you’re stuck…into the bathtub with a mattress over you is the only way: the bathroom because it’s the strongest part of a residential structure (pipes tied to slabs and footings, heavier framing, even fiberglass tubs are shaped right for resisting collapse). In the case of couples and families, this technique often leads to a heightened sense of belonging whether they survive the storm or not.

    Although I never saw a funnel cloud growing up, on Charles’ insistence, we spent many nights hunkered under the dining room table (!) while he was carrying out his responsibilities as the Commander of the local Naval Reserve unit…driving laterally, no doubt. Over the years, he built hundreds of residences, not a single one with a storm room or cellar. That must be one of the lesser recognized outcomes of our modern mobile culture.

    The two events you refer to, in '98 and '99, are the only two funnels I’ve ever seen. Both times I was in studio at OSU working and listening to the weather. Both times the funnels dropped about 20 miles west and headed straight for our neighborhood in the northeast part of town, about ten minutes away by car. A quick phone call and Edith and Jack were ready when I pulled up…then back out to US 177 and south. Both times we could see the funnel snaking through the countryside spinning around it whatever was loose and a lot that hadn’t been.

    Which brings me to Jack the Dog…and what a dog he was. Runt of the litter; pedigreed but shunned by the AKC for want of a more respectable name; favorite of the neighborhood kids (“Can Jack come out and play?”); and, no matter how far he ranged, always home in time for cocktails and the tennis ball. I once composed something entitled “The Teleology of Okra” which opened with an account of Jack tracing the high arc of the ball across the okra patch, then wandered through the mating habits of the turtles in the pond, then a speculation on how, exactly, okra found its way to the New World, and concluded with a holy, if alternative, recitation of the Eucharist. That gem is safely lost in the archives.

    Except on our walks together (“Hi Jack!” Then looking at me, “Who are you?”), I was a little too independent to satisfy Jack’s shepherding instincts. He served for both of us with Edith. I look at the photo H took of him everyday and wonder at his grace.

    In 1972, I placed an epigram in Jenny’s urn. It was a drawing, as simple as I could make it, of a clear sky, a rainbow, and green grass. It was still there in ’96 and it’s there now.

    Always a good idea to change the names of the innocent, particularly in the case of “Trish”.


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