From Ashes to Ashes

By Jerry D. Haight


A rare nap just got underway when the alarm sounded. A loud, clear Jerrrrreeee is our family equivalent to a call to arms, general quarters. The all hands man your battle stations variety. One time the alarm heralded an invasion of water in our basement. Then raccoons on our deck and smoke in our den. Clues to the urgency are in directly proportion to the tone, volume and duration of the alarm. This time it was life and death. Then came the news. “Come quick, Brinkley just scattered your mother’s ashes all over the spare bedroom”.  I really did not want to rise to this occasion, pulling the covers over my head made a whole lot more sense at the moment.


Brinkley, an Australian terrier is small, sturdy and just a bit stocky. As a breed they have a beautiful coarse reddish coat, pricked ears and a docked tail. He has a sweet, keen, penetrating and an irresistible expression that cannot be ignored. This is the key to his charm. As a group, they are highly energetic, tenacious and single minded to the extreme (a polite way of saying they are neurotic). The breed standard says absolutely nothing about brains and that for very good reason. This dog has none.  As to good sense or sense of propriety, this dog has none of these either. We acquired Brinkley as a favor to our friends while they were on vacation. There is a very appropriate adage about good deeds such as this. Part of our punishment occurred within 30 seconds of his arrival; He peed all over Misty’s food and water dish in our kitchen. Later he killed a baby rabbit in our yard, shredded a favorite stuffed toy and now the sacrilege or sacrileges.


Some of Brinkley’s traits are the same as my mothers. She too had a sweet keen and penetrating expression possessed high energy was tenacious and single minded to the extreme. (A polite way of saying she was neurotic). Mom had two identities. Most of the time she was Mom, but there were times when she became Phyllys’ mother in law. Times when I really wanted to disassociate with her. One such time was when I was called to account for her hitchhiking in front of her assisted living home at 95 years old. Another time was when I was called to her place and found her in conference with five sheriff’s deputies interviewing her about brandishing a sharp weapon toward the head nurse. Still another time was when she instructed me as her personal representative not to parade her cadaver in public (i.e. a funeral). She demanded cremation but gave absolutely no instructions regarding her ashes. This is how Phyllis’s mother in law came to be in a cardboard box in our spare bedroom. Now it would appear that Brinkley might have solved one problem, only to have created another.


Possession of a large elephant in a spare bedroom would certainly be a challenge. Possession of my wife’s mother in law in our spare bedroom in a cardboard box while awaiting disposition (so to speak) had its own set of challenges. Placing her ashes in an urn on our mantel was not an option. We did not have a mantel. We had no urn. Placing her in a mausoleum or columbarium would have resulted in her immediate return from the dead to haunt us. She detested those places. Scattering seemed to be a solution more amicable to her temperament but no place we knew of seem appropriate. It was a troublesome dilemma. We knew she had scattered Dad’s ashes but we had no idea where. Mom was very secretive.


Resisting the temptation to bury my head (so to speak), I ran to the spare bedroom. There I found that all color was sucked out of the room. The only penetrating daylight was filtered through the window now covered top to bottom by my wife’s mother in law. The ceiling, walls and even our formerly bright brown  carpet all was a homogeneous gray. Cardboard was scattered all over the floor and in the midst of the mess was a small Australian terrier with a coarse grey coat, pricked ears and a docked tail. He has a sweet, keen, penetrating and irresistible expression that cannot be ignored. I wanted to get my malevolent hands on him in the worst way. But first, the mess. What do we do with Phyllis’s mother in law. Then an idea. We will get the Hoover. Phyllis must have read my mind because I heard the sound of the Hoover in back of me. Just as she began sucking her mother in law into the Hoover, I woke up. The house was at peace except for the sound of the Hoover in the living room. Mom was still in her cardboard box in the spare bedroom. Back to the original problem.


A dear friend of Mom said she thought Dad’s ashes were scattered over Grand Lake in Colorado. I hoped this wasn’t the case, because the water from Grand Lake quenches the thirst of the entire metroplex of Denver. I could not contemplate all those people drinking Mom. Then Alan, my nephew, mentioned that shortly after Dad’s memorial, Mom took him with her to Fairmont Cemetery to visit my brother’s grave. Allan was too young at the time to understand the reason for the trip, but I did.


I made a similar trip in July to the grave of my brother. I too am very secretive.