We're a Jewish family, Reform. Even among Reform cremation is not a household word--for obvious historical reasons. My mom, though, was practical and ecological. Cremated ashes would take up less room. She had long ago bought regular-sized plots in the Montgomery cemetery (which, should you need to know, is still unofficially but firmly segregated by race and religion. If you're Jewish, you will not be buried near Hank Williams!)
Mom had dad cremated before my sister and I had a chance to vote on the decision, and she kept his ashes on the mantelpiece on Long Island, and later in Montgomery. One day the ashes were just gone. "Where's Dad?" "I buried him," she said. End of discussion. She had driven my father's Cadillac over to Oakwood cemetery, urn in hand, and told the director to bury them. No Kaddish, no prayers, no ceremony. The rabbi at the Montgomery temple was appalled.
I had mixed feelings. Part of me sympathized with the rabbi. And the other part admired my mother's dispassionate act. She was done with my father. I've written about this in a few poems, "Global," for one. It's in Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, as well as in Circe, After Hours.
According to my mother's wishes, we had her cremated, too, and buried next to my father. With Kaddish and mourners.
That's not the end of the story, though. When my family sits at the kitchen table talking about topics that my mother disapproves of, the oven light starts to blink. My daughter Heather is well-acquainted with this phenomenon. "Stop it, Ma!" she yells. "It's not me," I respond. My friend Kali who is a "sensitive," has experienced this oven light phenomenon in my kitchen. "Energy disturbance," she calls it.
Today when the Supreme Court announced their regressive decision on the Civil Rights voting act, the oven light started blinking in my kitchen. Now early on my mother was a genteel racist. Late in the game, in her 80's, she experienced a conversion, and began to participate in civil rights demonstrations. She went with an all-black male car of protesters to vote with her body against the end of public transport in downtown Mongtomery. Working class blacks were the main ones who took the bus, and my mother thought that wasn't fair. Her white white-haired lady neighbors looked disapprovingly as my mother got in the car with young black men. "What are you not telling us?" my mother's neighbor asked slyly, about the men who came to the door for her, to take her to rallies. My mother was disgusted by her peers, who used to be her friends all the way back when she was a girl. But she had outgrown them in the end.
An old-fashioned Jewish mother, she never blinks positive messages. So if my long-dead mother takes the trouble to weigh in from the underground, this Supreme Court vote was seriously troubling. A travesty. But you knew that.
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.