Mama ordered a $10 plastic urn. The nit-pickiest woman on planet earth – the very same woman who pitched a hissy fit if my roots were showing, or if I went to town without lipstick on, the woman who spent the last hours of her life shopping for the perfect leather purse — picked out a Tupperware coffin.
“Why didn’t she tell us?” I cried to Linda. “We could have gone shopping together for something useful.”
Mama had pointed out the funeral home during a recent drive through town, told me she picked that one because they were affordable. I might point out that never in her life had Mama been one to skimp on spending money on her own wardrobe. The stories I could tell you about Mama and her shopping sprees.
It never occurred to me to ask her if she had picked out an urn. Oh. You should have seen the gardens Mama grew! Every rose bush specially ordered from Jackson-Perkins. Mama spent more money on her garden than she did my college education. Truth. How could such a woman pick Tupperware for her burial bed?
No. Way. I told my brother when I found out that she had bought a $10 urn for her ashes. Nu-huh. I will find an urn. We are not burying Mama in a Tupperware bowl.
Although, let me just say for the record Mark Childress is a comic genius for coming up with CRAZY IN ALABAMA, the story of a woman who decapitates her husband and carries his head around in a Tupperware bowl. My children were all in high school when I first read that book and howled until I cried. I read them parts of the book, and laughed some more. I”m pretty sure that’s when each one of my children had their Come-to-Jesus moment.
But what is belly-aching funny in fiction is not in real-life.
I told my brother and sister I would find something suitable to bury our mama in.
I spent the better part of this past week looking.
I tried two different Pier Ones, three different gift shops, T.J. Maxx, where I actually did find an urn but then proceeded to drop the top and break it before I reached the check-out. A blessing really, as I told my sister, because you don’t want to be dropping the urn after you’ve put your mama in it. Linda agreed it was best to break it ahead of time.
I tried floral shops. And, yes, I could have gone to the funeral home and picked out something, but Mama loved beautiful things, and shopping. It only made sense to me that we find her urn at someplace she would shop herself.
There are a lot of beautiful vases that would work, the florist said, but it’s hard to get lids for them. Finding an urn was really the only job I had to do beside get the guest book and write the obit (and it was already written and in print). Mama tasked Linda with doing all the funeral arrangements and Frank gets the chore of paying off Mama’s Nordstroms bill.
Tuesday was New Year’s so that cut into my shopping opportunities. I didn’t think I was going to find an urn but I tried one more stop on my way home — Hermiston Drug Store. I figured at the very least they would have a guest book.
The lady in the blue smock working the register wore a name tag: Anita.
“Do you have any guest books?” I asked.
“Why, yes,” she said, stepping around the counter. Hermiston Drugs is the kind of store where they provide old-fashioned customer service. They actually escort you down the aisles. They have pretty good milkshakes in the lunch counter in the back of the store, too, if you’ve got a hankering for one. I didn’t.
“Is this for a wedding?” Anita asked.
“No,” I said. “A funeral.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she replied. Her brow knitted in worry. She could tell that this wasn’t just any funeral because of the pained look that came across my face.
Anita stopped right there next to the Fenton glassware and said, “Oh, dear, can I give you a hug?”
Well, if there is ever a time a girl or a boy needs a hug it’s when their mama dies. If you meet somebody on the street or at the beach and they tell you that their mama has just died you owe it to all of humanity to ask them if they need a hug, because, trust me, they need it in the worst way.
I know I did.
Anita reached up over my neck and hugged me tight the way we ought to hug the mourning. Then, she helped me pick out a guest book for my mama’s final farewell.
“Is there anything else you need?” she asked.
“Uh, yes,” I said. “I need an urn. A vase with a lid. I saw one when I came in that I just love but the thing is it’s clear.” I walked Anita over to where I’d first eyed the leaded crystal vase. “It’s just so beautiful, I think my mother would love it. But I don’t know about it being clear. Do you have anything like it?”
Anita searched up and down the shelves, throughout the store, looking for anything similar to the vase I had picked out.
“Okay, no worries,” I said. “Thank you for helping. I think I’ll check with my sister and see what she says about this one.”
I sent my sis a photo of the clear vase. Thank you, Apple. Then I called her and my brother. I don’t think either of them were keen to the notion of putting Mama’s ashes in a leaded crystal vase that was clear, but both were reluctant to tell me no. We’ve tried to be that way with each other through all of this. Realizing we have our differences, talking everything out, careful to be tender because everyone is so wounded already.
“We can put some rose petals on the top,” I said. “It could be pretty.”
It’s up to you, they both said.
So I took the black leather guest book and the crystal vase up to the counter where Anita proceeded to wrap up everything nicely so nothing would break like last time.
As she handed me the receipt, Anita said, “I am going to be praying for you. It’s hard to lose a parent, especially a mom. We have that deep spiritual connection to our moms.”
I walked out of the store, tears blurring my vision, clutching the crystal urn secured in a box, to my car.
Which had a flat tire.
I laughed. Then called my son, who dutifully came to change it, without complaint.
It’s been that way all week long. So many people reaching out, offering a helping hand, gentle words, unexpected embraces and untethered prayers.
I am surrounded by an army of Anita Angels.
I hope you can see clear through to this heart overflowing with gratitude.
I’d hug your neck if I could reach you.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED, HarperCollins.