My Hat in the Ring

Over the past two years we have buried both my parents in the family plot at Lake ForestCemetery, joining my brother, grandparents, great and great-great grandparents.   While the plot was certainly filling up, it appeared that there was plenty of room in front of the monument that was the plot’s centerpiece.  I figured that this little piece of real estate was ours, and that we could put people where ever we wanted to.  However, a head cemetery guy emerged, called a sexton, who said in no uncertain terms where we could and could not bury our parents.  The sexton was put in the unenviable position of the arbiter over various and potentially warring factions of the family; in fact certain long lost members of the family had already laid dibbies on different parts of the plot.  Furthermore the sexton said that for our family there was only enough room to put one additional headstone, which my parents would have to share.  I’m sure that if I wanted to get into it, I could make the case that our branch of the family got short changed a bit on this valuable piece of real estate.

There were plenty of other restrictions as well, all of which were designed to make upkeep of the cemetery more efficient.  This mostly meant that there could be no impediments to mowing, and thus no additional decorations on the headstones which could potentially fall off and ruin a lawn mower, and no birdfeeders staked into the ground for the same reason.  Potted flowers could only be placed in plastic containers since metal containers could ding the mowers.  Oddly enough, there were also restrictions on what type of containers you could bury the cremains in.  Specifically urns had to be sturdy and impermeable to water, so that you could find them intact on the odd chance that you wanted to dig them up.  Similarly, only certain types of coffins were allowed and they had to be buried in a water tight liner.  Again, the mowing took precedence.  If the coffin rotted out over time,  without a liner, it would create a large sinkhole that would be difficult to mow.  

All of these restrictions piqued my interest in the Lake ForestCemetery, which I discovered was somewhat unique – it is amongst the dwindling number of non-profit community-run cemeteries.  The cemetery is also situated on an absolutely gorgeous wooded piece of lake front property that I am sure had developers drooling, and the city waving goodbye to huge property taxes, if developed.  The only full time staff member was the sexton who reported to a volunteer cemetery commission.  I thought that this would be the ideal entry position for someone who wanted to give back to the community and get involved in local government.  So I decided to throw my hat into the ring and propose my candidacy for cemetery commissioness. 

I filled out an on line questionnaire, which I had to leave embarrassingly empty – prior government experience (none), financial experience (none, in fact I have never balanced a check book), horticulture experience (none, except for the fact that impatiens are a particular pet peeve), other civic experience (none, as I say I was seeking an entry level position).  Even so, I was eventually invited to my first interview by the caucus committee of my ward.  The first question was obvious – why was I interested.  I explained my recent experiences at the cemetery in a very positive light and then commented that the cemetery was one of the unique distinguishing features of Lake Forest.  I tried to address my obvious lack of qualifications with a spiel about my transferable skills of intellectual curiosity and analytic ability, assuring them that I would be up to speed in no time.  I even gave them my reading list of the “American Way of Death,” by Jessica Mitford and other internet research, and really laid it on thick about how the cemetery was an asset to the community. 

Phew, I had passed the first round of interviews, and was then invited for the second round in front of the entire caucus of about 50 people.  They seated me in a little chair on a platform and I readied myself to be peppered with questions, but it seemed that nobody knew what to ask.  I gave my pat statement about how the cemetery was a unique feature of Lake Forest, and then there was silence.  Finally someone asked, “How can the residents enjoy the cemetery if they are not buried there?”  Well, this was something of a puzzler, but I suggested that the cemetery was a very beautiful and tranquil place to visit, but did not mention that as a kid I had gone to a birthday party that featured a treasure hunt amongst the graves.    

Another pause, and the next question, “Who should be buried in the cemetery?”  I was tempted to say dead people, but resisted the urge to be cheeky.  I then recalled that this seemingly simple question put me on the precipice of a slippery slope, since there had been some discussion in the local paper about a prospective dead person who was denied permission to purchase a cemetery plot.  Seems he was not technically a Lake Forest resident although he claimed that he went to church in Lake Forest and bought his groceries here.  Although the local paper touted this as another example of elitist Lake Forest, the sexton had pointed out that the cemetery was supported with local taxes and thus, like the beach, should be limited to true residents.  The sexton pointed out that the man could become eligible to purchase a plot if he elected to live in the local retirement community.  There were still potentially troubling questions about the duration of the qualifying residency, when the plot was purchased, and when the plot would be used.   Summoning my feeble political spin moves, I merely noted that these tough issues were exactly why the Cemetery commission was so important and needed thoughtful, deliberate people.   I might have tried to sell my thoughtful nature by cupping my chin in my hands as I rested my elbow on my knee – sort of like the Rodin sculpture, The Thinker.

For the final question, I was asked what I would do to make the cemetery better.  I knew that I had to tread carefully since I did not want to reveal my super secret agenda of greening the cemetery, certain to be a long shot since the city did not permit solar panels or small discrete wind turbines.  My feeling was that we should be able to sprinkle relatives’ cremains anywhere we wanted to in our plot.  I had a book called “Cool Green Stuff,” that profiled a few novelty ideas for green burial.  One outfit offered to mix your ashes with birdseed and then coat several birdfeeders for a novel approach to recycling.  Another described an ash-filled ceramic ornament that is suspended from a tree with a biodegradable thread with a 1-3 years lifespan.  One of the appeals of this device is that no one can predict when the thread will break, sending the urn smashing to the ground and spreading the ashes.  Knowing my family, the scatter time would be subject to intense wagering. 

I also had ideas about greening up the landscaping.  My friend Marion pointed out that you could reseed with low mowing turf, as long as you were willing to let the grass grow several inches higher.  If you didn’t need to mow, the maintenance costs would plummet and then there would be no need for coffin liners, thus opening the door for other options for those preferring full interment.  Perhaps due to her deep commitment to organic gardening, Marion is not an ashes to ashes person, but more of a “worms crawl in and worms crawl out” kind of gal.  The Ecopod would appear to be the perfect container for her.  About the size and shape of an oversized violin case, it is made of 100% recycled paper.  With a very low profile, it would not create a substantial sink hole as it gently disintegrates. 

The interview was over in 20 minutes, and I heard the next day that the caucus had been impressed enough that they had forwarded my name to the mayor for his final decision.  The mayor was a lame duck due to leave office in one month, but was charged with making these key executive decisions before he left.  I was assuming a rubber stamping was in order.  But I heard nothing for over six weeks.  Then one day my husband noticed the new appointments to the city commission published in the local newspaper.  Frankly, it did not occur to me that there would be others seeking this lowly post, but apparently I had competition.  There it was in black and white, the mayor had appointed someone else (I am told it was a friend of his) and had not even given me the courtesy of a call.  Clearly, the cemetery would not be needing my services.  I turned to my husband and said, “Just think, you married a cemetery commission reject!”   

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop).  The number of asterisks indicates the number of letters, and one of the missing words will rhyme with the previous or following lines.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rule and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

How We Bury People

King Tut was embalmed to  ****** the flow of blood and body rot,

Mummified, placed in a pure gold coffin and hidden in a plot.

He was decked out in pure silk, embroidered with golden stitches,

And then sealed up tight so that no one could ****** his riches.

Personally, I would gather my family, friends and other celebrants

And fling my ashes to the wind midst doggerelish ******.







Answers:  stanch, snatch, chants

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