Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mamoo Got the Cardboard Box

One of the enduring stories inmy life is about the death of my 80+ grandmother who we called Mamoo. Mamoo was not a nice person. She had four sons the youngest of whom was my father. (My dad is on the left, Mamoo, then Uncle Pat. In the front left is Uncle Tommy and Uncle Billy in the middle.)

All her adult life Mamoo recounted the story of how she and Bean, my grandfather, fell in love and eloped because they knew her family would not bless the marriage. Mamoo, it seemed, had a couple of years of teacher's college in the early 1920's and lived in the big white house on the hill. Bean's father was the town drunk of Hendersonville, North Carolina and my father learned how to cuss from his grandfather in the pool hall. Bean was a mechanic with a sixth grade education.

Mamoo and Bean ran off and married returning to her unbelievably distraught parents. I think she even used the terms "weeping and wailing" describing them on the doorstep. Miraculously, seven months later, the largest premature baby ever born in Hendersonville, NC came into the world with Mamoo and Bean as the parents. A whopping 9 pounder was my Uncle Billy, who was "sickly" the rest of his life from being a preemie.

When my mother and father were courting, Mamoo recounted the story at dinner one evening. Mom got in the car later and poked Daddy in the ribs chuckling at the bravado. He had never figured it out until that moment.

For years prior to her death Mamoo harangued my father about being cremated and buried next to Bean. She was obsessed with this. (Of course, she was obsessed with herself. I remember we got a postcard one time about a huge bowel movement she had. I still can see her scratchy little handwriting saying, "I don't know where it came from, I eat like a bird!") For a small southern town, cremation was weird. When she died, her wish was honored.

The funeral home was packed and for the first time in my 20 something year old life I met relatives I had never even heard about. I remember walking in and being disturbed by two things. One, no one, NO ONE, shed a tear. And, two, sitting in plain view on the funeral director's desk was a brown grocery bag with "Alyce P. Reese" and her death date on it. I was sure it was Mamoo.

We filed past the office with the bag and proceeded to the cemetery. The chairs were lined up under the tent and the AstroTurf was laid out. There in the middle of the AstroTurf was a small white cardboard box, about the size of a baby's shoebox. All the little old ladies filed into the seats and glowered at my parents. Yes, we were going to bury Mamoo in a cardboard box.

Mom and I were standing on the sidelines. I whispered, "surely we're not going to bury Mamoo in a cardboard box?" A bad liar, she replied, "um, no, um, there's a nicer box inside the cardboard box. In a minute the funeral director will come take the nice box out." Never happened. The service started and no one could take their eyes off of the what Mamoo had been reduced to.

Then Mom and I had a "Chuckles the Clown - Mary Tyler Moore" moment. (At the time, Saturday Night Live had a skit that our family loved. Someone imitating Lillian Carter explained what happened raising Jimmy and Billy and why they turned out so differently. It went something along the lines of 'one Christmas, Jimmy got the brand new shiny red bicycle, and Billy, well he got the cardboard box. Jimmy got to eat all the chocolate covered cherries, and Billy, well he got the cardboard box.' etc. etc. etc. I found the transcript of the skit here: SNL SKIT)

About halfway through the service I leaned over to my Mom and said, "well, Mamoo got the cardboard box." We lost it and received even more glowers from the little old ladies.

The paper bag held her "personal effects" which I discovered when I put my hand into it in the back of the car on the way home to Knoxville. No jewelry - a ratty old nightgown and some dentures have created an "ick factor" I carry with me to this day...

1 comment:

Patience Renzulli said...

OH! Start writing again, please? I have just discovered this and will get nothing else done today :-)