Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Death, golf courses and life at the laundry mat.

I apologize, mostly to Chris that I've been shirking my blogging duties. See, I haven't been feeling well the past few weeks and although the mind was active, the body couldn't drag herself to the portable iPad. My strength has been building the last few days so with, "RuPaul's Drag Race" on the television to drown out the noise of the next door neighbors latest public display of domestic discord and Elvis's head resting on the small of my back.....let's get back to business..shall we?

When I was a kid, say around six or seven years old I started to grasp that things and people eventually cease to exist. You know...die. I'd heard the word "dead" and the expression, "passed away" in regards to elderly relatives and neighborhood acquaintances but didn't fully understand the true meaning of death. Yes, I'd had goldfish that occasionally floated to the top of the bowl only to be unceremoniously flushed down the commode, but again I didn't grasp the finality of the concept of death and all that goes with it. Funerals? Coffins? Memorials? Couldn't wrap my grade school brain around it but at the same time, I was fascinated by it. So much so that while the neighborhood girls would hold mock weddings with their Barbies, I would bury them in the little garden we had by our shed. I'd say a few words and in she'd go, only to be pulled out, brushed off and ready for a ride in her new Corvette! My own little blond haired zombie.

It was around this time that my mother was helping her boyfriend (my parents were separated) with one of his side businesses, a laundry mat in Old Tappan, New Jersey. Every weekend I would drive out with her and sit on the folding tables making conversation with all the people while she collected the money, loaded the soap and swept the floor. I remember our garage being filled with those little boxes of soap and fabric softener that you get out of the machine and the smell of Tide being overpowering every time we got out of the car. I was fascinated with how small the boxes were.
One particular spring day in the year of our lord, 1977, it was announced over the radio that the legendary entertainer Bing Crosby "passed away" on a golf course in Spain. I didn't hear the Spain part, but I did happen to notice that we were, at that very moment passing a golf course on the way to our weekend jaunt to the laundry mat. My sister, Jean was home for spring break from St. Anne's School for Girls in Albany, New York and was a part of the festivities. She was 15 at the time and to this seven year old, very worldly. She and my mother were laughing at my rubbernecking in the direction of the golf course looking in vain for the fallen Bing Crosby. I didn't understand. And I certainly didn't want to miss out on the chance to see someone dead. Especially on a golf course. And famous to boot!
Mom explained that he didn't die in the hamlet of Nanuet like I had hoped for, but in a more exotic locale....Spain. Okay, I got that. Understood. But, once and for all I wanted an explanation on what "dead" was. What is this great mystery of life that will eventually happen to us all? Why do people speak in hushed tones and dress in black and all that jazz? So, I asked her. Below is verbatim the conversation that took place:
Me: "What happens to you when you die?"
Mom: "They stick you in a box and they bury you".

Just like that.

Now, I couldn't understand how one would be positioned in a huge Magnavox console television box, but I was starting to understand the concept. The neighbors across the street had a cat that died and they buried him in a Thom McCann shoe box. Like that, I guess? Alright. That took care of the disposal of the body, but what about death in relation to life and more importantly, me?
Me: "Well, what am I gonna do when you die?"
Mom: "You'll be sad for a little while, then you'll get over it".

Just like that.

Jean thought this whole dialogue was the funniest thing she had ever heard. I was frustrated because I felt as if they were keeping me out of the loop and not letting me in on something big. One more thing to add to the, "someday when you're older I'll explain" list. Ah, youth.

It's been 33 years and many many deaths of pets, friends, acquaintances, family members and loved ones since that conversation with my mother in her green Gran Torino on the way to the laundry mat that spring day. I understand now what happens when we die; to our bodies and our spirits. I understand now that death is just a fact of life and it's nothing to fear, really. I understand now that we all have a path to follow and like it or not, we chose it before coming here, and I do understand now that the universe has a plan and when it's ready, we'll be called back "home".
My mother's death in 1986 was the most significant loss I've experienced in this life time. Second only to my beloved grandfather in 1993. After almost 24 years, I miss her every day, and with the realization that I'm just four short years away from the age she was when she passed, I mourn all the life lessons she wasn't around to give me. But that's okay. I was sad for a little while and I got over it.

Just like that.


  1. This left me in a puddle of tears, C, both happy and sad. Your writing has so much heart and wisdom and humor. I'm glad you're feeling better and shared this.

  2. Thank you so much, Bef. By the way, I know it's laundromat. It's written the way a kid would.