Mother wasn’t crazy about Val’s announcement about going to mortuary school, but then, Mom wasn’t crazy about much when it came to Val. As he had learned at an early age, he was the black sheep, the least favorite child…that different kid in his family.
“Val, it just burns me up to see you wasting your time, hanging around that spooky mortuary, being around all those sad families, trying to put broken bodies back together…and for what? It’s the worst decision you’ve ever made!” she screamed, her face reddening during one of her routine meltdowns at our family’s weekly Sunday dinner.
Val sat silently.
Suddenly, Mom’s face turned purple and she grabbed her throat.
“Get some water,” our eldest brother Rob ordered, not moving from his chair. “She’s choking. Somebody do something.”
No one moved as Mom fell, face first into a steaming bowl of chicken soup.
Scarlett, our youngest sister stood but then froze in place. “She’ll drown,” she said, her voice strangely calm. “Should we just let her lie there?
“Better not touch anything,” Rob determined. “Better call the coroner.”
“Coroner?” Scarlett’s voice squeaked.
“To pronounce her,” Val offered.
On Tuesday, there was an evening visitation. Val had done his usual best and Mother, dressed in the blue lace dress she had worn to Rob’s wedding, looked as though she was sleeping.
The next day, family friends gathered for a brief service in the chapel. Pastor Paul read her favorite Psalm. Delilah Parks sang “Amazing Grace” and we were dismissed with the pastor’s benediction while Val rolled Mom’s casket through a side door.
Later, at the funeral lunch, Rob asked if we would be going to the cemetery after we ate.
“No need,” Val said, wiping his perfectly manicured hands on the white linen napkin and folding it perfectly before placing it at the side of his plate.
“Aren’t we going to bury Mom?” Scarlett had always been the naive one.
Treating that last question as a rhetorical one, Val excused himself and returned several minutes later. In his white-gloved hands was a silver tray and on the tray, there were five urns, each an exact replica of the next. He presented each of us with an urn.
“What’s this?” Rob asked to avoid taking off the lid to look inside.
Val smiled that peevish smile I remembered from the times he pulled one of his practical jokes. “It’s Mom…well, her ashes anyway…and just like she said, I really burned her up!”
Rob nodded and also smiled. “Don’t you all remember? Mom always liked being right.