Dear Betty Jo:
Well, daughter, I have good news for you. Remember, back in grade school, how you used to wonder how you'd ever spend your inheritance when we died? Well, you don't have to worry as much now. Your ma and me just bought ourselves a couple of classy funerals. You won't be ashamed of us like you were of Aunt Effie and Uncle Willy with their pine boxes; we'll be the envy of the cemetery. There's still three spaces left in the family plot, so we'll save one for you when you need it.
Cousin Lafe's eyes are so poorly that he can't make coffins like he used to. Ma looked at his last one and said she wouldn't be seen dead in it, so last Friday we gussied up and went to talk to the undertaker in town. He wasn't in, but his assistant was. Very sharp young man, with a black serge suit, boiled shirt, bow tie and shoes you could see your face in. He seemed kind of nervous when we said we wanted the best—kept rubbing his hands—but he promised to help.
First thing was to pick out our caskets—that's what he called the coffins—so we went into the showroom. Ma tried on six before she found one that was comfortable and had a lining to match her best dress. She looked real handsome in it. It wasn't the most expensive, either. The top of the line had built–in FM stereo with a long-life battery and a solar panel that went on top of the tombstone, but Ma always liked classical music—she wasn't from here, you know—and our station don't play that stuff. She asked if they had one with a CD changer, but the man said there wasn't room and that seemed to satisfy her. She didn't know what a CD was, but she figured it had to sound better than our old gramophone. The one with the radio looked good to me—no trouble getting country and western—but Ma thumbs-downed that. Don't know if she didn't want me having more than her, or was just afraid that she'd be able to hear it, being just next door and all.
So we wound up with matched coffins, excepting hers is pink and mine's blue. Then we had to decide on our vaults. I didn't figure on having to buy a septic tank with a lid, but the man said we had to have them unless we were buried in a Veterans' Cemetery, and the local one filled up quick when they let them social-climbing Yankees in. I asked about this no-vault insurance, but he said that was about something else—country banks, maybe.
Anyway, Ma kind of liked one with air conditioning—it gets pretty hot here summers—but then she got to wondering if it was fair to make you pay the electric bills. I said not, so we settled for one with a copper lining, foam insulation and a sump pump. I said one, but you know I meant one each. We've had twin beds for years and wish we'd started sooner.
Now we needed a monument. We thought that was just a high-fluting word for tombstone until we saw the pictures and prices. This time we decided to just get one for the two of us. You'll like it for sure, with all its hearts and flowers. There's a couple of cupids making-out on a park bench. Just like the real thing—best I can remember. Inscription has our names and "At Peace". That sounds good. The man said it's made of genuine Italian marble from Vermont. Real class, but I didn't know there was a Vermont in Italy. He said it just meant green mountain, and they have a lot of them.
Only thing is that Ma made the man change her birth date from 1920 to 1930 so people would keep thinking she was younger than me instead of the other way around. She always was funny that way. Gave up ten years of Social Security so folks wouldn't know. Everybody was blaming me for her getting old early—which she didn't. Just thought I'd tell you so you wouldn't be wondering if she was just eleven when she had you.
Then we had to arrange for the services. Brother Ron'll preach, of course, and Cousin Lem'll sing if he's sober, but we told them to have nice music just in case—classical junk for Ma and good stuff for me. We asked about this embalming business; didn't they just pack us in ice like back home? The man looked shocked. "Of course not," he said. "We put the ice in the coolers with the beer. With embalming, you'll keep good, and we can make you look almost like you were alive." Well, that's as good as Ma and me have been able to manage for years, so we told him OK.
Ma wondered how we were going to pay for all this, but the young fellow told us we could use their lay-away plan. All I had to do was to sign over my insurance policy and send them half of my pension check each month for thirty-six months. Just think, in three years we'll own our funerals outright! How's that for good planning? Of course we won't be eating real high on the hog, but I'd kind of like to be buried in my army uniform and in three years I bet it'll fit just fine.
So we're all set. I hope you don't mind about the inheritance. We hear you're doing real good there in Nashville. I mentioned your name to a drummer the other day, and he says he often sees your name in the paper. Told me you have a big house near the capitol and have taken in a lot of girls off the streets. He said most of the big shots visit you, especially when the legislature's in session. We worried when you ran away from home, but it's nice to hear that you're helping others. I reckon we brought you up right after all.
P.S. If this don't read quite the way I talk, it's because Cousin Susie insisted on typing it up and figured she had to neaten it a bit. Don't worry; she won't tell anybody Ma's age.
©E. R. Vine
About the author:
"E.R.Vine" (an improvement on his check-signing name) is a long-retired mechanical engineer living on the family compound in the wilds of Arkansas with his wife, two sons, one daughter-in-law, three dogs, eight cats and a stray nubian goat that wandered in one day. He writes to make up for not having much else to do. He is working on reaching the thousand-rejection-slip mark of the established writer, and only has nine hundred and ninety-nine to go.