By Chiggers Stokes,
Special to the Forks Forum
Public Proclamation — Be It Known To All Men!
I, Chiggers Stokes, being of sound mind and body, upon termination of my life, do hereby bequeath the water portion of my body to Hemp Hill Creek, resident to the Flying S Farm. By the authority of gravity, Hemp Hill is instructed to carry this essence to her confluence, thereupon to surrender this water to the Bogachiel, as owned by the People of Washington State, for the express purpose of salmon habitat, skinny dipping and refreshment of human, plant and animal-kind.
One thing that goes with having a name like Chiggers is people have difficulty telling when you’re joking around and when you are dead serious. So, something like the above proclamation may seem prankish as my recent remarks about returning my body water to my home drainage might seem like a poetic reach.
But in 1990, when I told my mother that it was my intention, when the time came, to be buried here on the Flying S, she knew I was not joking. Nor did she laugh or kid around when I invited her to lay herself into my farm before me. She let me know emphatically, that she wanted no part of such a scheme. Her intention was to be cremated. I was to keep to those orders.
Six months later my mother was folding up clothes and was watching her reflection in a window as she did so. For whatever reason, my intention to be buried on my farm, caused her to fret that I would abscond with her body and inter it on my farm against her wishes.
She remembered having that thought as she saw the woman in the reflection drop her clothes and begin the long fall to the ground. She awoke into the terrible and frightening world of a stroke victim. It took her a couple years of intensive training and the most frustration a human soul can endure to recover to the point she could tell me what she was thinking when part of her brain exploded.
And shortly after that another stroke … and on the heels of that, another. My mother drew her finger across her throat and pointed to herself. I videotaped it. I sought compassionate care for my mother, who even so challenged to communicate was sending clear, unflinching resolve to end her own life.
And the only legal exit I could find for this person that brought me into the world and was my greatest life teacher was to lay in front of a tall glass of water until dead. And that’s what my mother did.
And I sat there for 10 days waiting for it to happen. It’s important to me, that my mother knew, her corpse was safe alone in the room with me. It was my sister that surrendered the still warm, but desiccated remains of our mother to the mortuary service which cremated her. My sister and I split the ground bone and ash 50/50. Her half went onto an old-growth fir on her farm in the Willamette Valley.
I bought a weeping cedar to memorialize my half and the poor tree cried itself to death. I dug up the ashes and relocated to a sunnier plot. I picked a weeping cheery. It likewise found something terminally sad in the soil to which it was planted.
Next to leave our family was my beloved grandmother of 100 years … well, only 46 years of it had been with me in the world. Words can’t express how important this woman was in my life and since I am only given 1,000 words in this column, I won’t try.
But something didn’t sit right with giving up her body without a clear notion of how she would want our love memorialized. She had been clear about wanting to donate her brain to Harvard Medical Center, but I couldn’t remember what her instructions had been about the rest of her.
I was still in the mood for a family cemetery and I talked my (ex-)wife into letting me use her new pickup truck to wrestle back my grandmother’s remains. So when the call came in from the funeral home, I figured, since my wife had agreed to loan me her truck, I might as well put the call on speaker-phone to keep her up to speed on the mission. I was telling the mortician, or whatever it was I was talking with, that it wasn’t a hearse that would be calling for my grandmother’s body in a couple of days. This is me being serious and not fooling around:
Chiggers: That’s correct. I will be picking up my grandmother myself in my wife’s pickup.
Funeral Home: Will you be bringing your own casket or coffin?
Chiggers: I don’t think my grandmother will be requiring a coffin.
Funeral Home: May we ask how you plan to secure your grandmother in the back of your wife’s pickup without some kind of casket? We have one made out of Styrofoam which is very affordable and would work for one trip.
Chiggers: This is my grandmother! Not an Egg McMuffin! Maybe I’ll bring her up in the cab with me. I’ll seat belt her in and put a copy of the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” in her hands to make her look natural.
Funeral Home: Mr. Stokes, please. You need to re-think the transport of your grandmother. If you bring her up in the cab with you, things in the cab of your wife’s pickup will get very close. With or without any heat turned on. You will want to open a window. Your grandmother donated her brain! If you seek ventilation the top of her head could fly out the window like a ball cap.
Chiggers: But my grandmother …
Funeral Home: And when the temperature in the car gets up past 50 degrees, your grandmother will become a fountain of bodily fluids. Unless you’re planning on burying your wife’s truck with your grandmother, you will need a casket.
Ex-wife (coming into the conversation): Wait a minute! There has been a misunderstanding here …
Chiggers: OK, I will bring a refrigerator box or something.
Funeral Home: Mr. Stokes! You need a casket for this …
Ex-wife: There has been a misunderstanding. My husband will not be using my pickup to pick up his grandmother. Even my husband is not crazy enough to try to get on a bus with a corpse, so my guess is that you will be disposing of his grandmother by cremation …
To be continued …