Yesterday I got a letter with a check representing my share of the sale of a piece of land owned by one of my mother’s great-grandfathers. We had a giggle last night at dinner when I announced the sale of the previously unknown to us Lindsay Ditch on Shillelagh Road.
The accompanying letter included a list of the other heirs. My share of $122 and change was not the lowest, nor the highest. On my mother’s side of the family I had a large number of third cousins. We cared about those sorts of relationships. My mother’s mother’s father was one of seven children, and the first cousins who were their children had some close relationships. My grandmother was best of friends with one cousin, who I knew as Aunt Dot, and I played with Aunt Dot’s grandson. As a teenager I began to sort out the relationships and figure out who connected where.
It helped to know all this in my 30’s when my mother’s cancer recurred and she began to obsess about where and how to be interred after the death she anticipated long before the rest of the family got a clue the end was coming. In a cemetery in Jane Austen’s Village, her family had a plot containing a mausoleum and a number of graves. My mother went to look at it and discovered it had grown unkempt. It had been many years since anyone had used the plot. But her infant nephew and her mother’s baby sister and her grandparents had been buried there, and it infuriated my mother to see the condition of the place. She sent out a letter to her cousins, all the heirs to the plot, to see what could be done. Most of them expressed no interest and one, a very fussy man with a very fussy wife, responded positively rudely. I hate to have to say that he was a clergyman, making matters worse.
When my mother died the following spring, my first cousin undertook to have the whole family plot cleaned up: grass cut, stones set to rights–including that of the brother he never knew–grill of the mausoleum cleaned and polished. My mother had chosen cremation, and the columbarium where she and my father planned to be interred together was still under construction, so we made arrangements that she might rest, for my father’s lifetime, among her ancestors, on a shelf above the mausoleum door. I wasn’t satisfied with the arrangements until I saw what my cousin had achieved in just a few days.
The Wednesday following her death on a Saturday, we traveled in a cortége from my parents’ home to the cemetery, and I remember being amazed at the number of people gathered there. My father, for some reason worried that #1 Son had come to the service (he was 7), became obsessed with the idea that there would not be enough chairs under the canopy if the child had a chair of his own, but in fact there were enough, and when #1 Son climbed into his father’s lap, we left an unoccupied chair at the end of the front row.
Will you be surprised to hear that my mother’s fussy cousin sat right down in that chair, leaving his wife standing?
Today I Googled some of the names in the letter and found my way to a list of those buried in the cemetery in the faraway Commonwealth of my birth. That wife left standing, whose husband took great offense at the notion that caring for the family plot was in any way his business, was buried in that same plot five years after my mother’s death.