By Jack Cawthon 2017|
For the life of me I can't understand why we provide flowers for the dead. Is this some sort of pagan rite like so many others that have trumped our lives?
My dislike for flowers may stem from early childhood. Back then in my deep country setting it seems that someone died every few weeks. At my age of two an aunt who lived with us died. The same year a granddad died. Those two strike me, but I am sure there were others close to us as modern medicine hadn't yet arrived.
Funeral homes years ago just prepared the body, placed it in a casket and brought it to the home where the corpse would lie in state perhaps for two or three days. There would be constant people paying respect and an all night vigil with the dead. And surrounding the casket would be flowers, fresh cut flowers, and with their sweet over-powering scent. This smell I learned to associate with death, and it prohibits me even now from ever giving flowers to anyone. Explain that to a woman!
It has lingered. I cannot go into a flower shop for any length of time without a fast retreat to the outside as a major panic attack overtakes me. The same is true even at the Walmart outside garden center. Some of our childhood hang ups stay with us and may be forever a part of our adult years.
There also may have been an old hill custom of kissing the corpse. I remember a book or movie or some such where a child is forced to kiss a dead relative and then as an adult becomes a serial killer or elected to Congress, some such dissolution. I seem to have a haunting memory of maybe kissing my aunt, but then again it may result from my early dating days with some girls who might have given me a similar response.
Bob Weaver, executive publisher and editor here at the Herald, served in the funeral business for several years and he readily speaks of his fight with alcoholism. Some of the old funeral directors of my youth had the same battle. There can be many causes, genetic
and other factors, but most people would associate it with working with the dead. My theory is that it comes from being around all those overwhelming stinky sweet scents from flowers.
But Bob is one truly strong individual. He swears on his dry bones how he fought his way to sobriety. Some years later he entered journalism and amazingly still remains sober! What a remarkable character!!
But I still can't escape flowers for the dead. As Hank, Jr. sings about his own battles with drugs and alcohol following in his famous daddy's footsteps, it's an old family tradition for me to follow in the traditions of my youth to visit the cemeteries each Decoration Day, as we called it, to place flowers on the graves of departed relatives. You can bet I don't use fresh ones, but those crafty little chemical laced creations that come across the waters from our Chinese brothers and sisters. Not only do they not smell like real flowers, they are cheap, which some would say in my case it's not the scent but the cents that count.
Long before we had the Chinese, we had our own methods of decoration. An aunt would start weeks before Decoration making flowers from crepe paper. When the day came she would cover the graves over with them, smothering the dead with garish colors that could well be seen from space today. I would be given a couple to place and when I stuck them into the ground and met any resistance I would stop knowing for sure I was punching into the dead body just under the soil. No wonder after all this I became a bit strange, as you may have noticed.
Even today beyond the smell, flowers are my curse. I like mowing grass. That was my beginning occupation as a teenager when I strained my guts out pushing the old reel mowers before Mr. Briggs and Mr. Stratton came up with their power assists. Perhaps that was my highest level of competency ever but earning 50 cents an hour wouldn't quite cut it later. But in mowing grass one can see real accomplishment by the clippings left behind and it doesn't require much thinking.
In more later years with the power assists and riding mowers, my mind can dwell even further as I mow. And here lies the problem. The Little Woman (5ft., 1in.) of course loves flowers. Don't they say opposites attract, like the queen bee of the hive and the workers, although you may draw your own analogy. And as I blissfully mow, I sometimes hear a scream: "You cut down my flowers!" Where were they, I asked. Why in the center of the yard. Oh, that patch of weeds, I reply. I remind her that I carefully mowed around the pretty flowers at the edge. "Those were weeds you idiot," she replies.
Why is it that pretty blooms of multiple colors growing profusely in field and, yes, yard are called weeds, while some spindly little nothings of little color and blissfully little scent, are called "flowers". Could all of my confusion as an adult be unloaded on the flowers I smelled in early childhood? Nah, it most likely stems from years of fake journalism in the nearby mental institution!
And speaking of flowers and journalism, Bob Weaver may soon be called into his prior occupation as he prepares the Herald for burial and my death as a vanity writer, assuming enough money doesn't come in for continuation. I don't figure Bob would want flowers, but rather money, but in any case I'm sure he will provide adequate last writes.