07:21:13 am on
Sunday 16 Dec 2018

Home Coming Day
AJ Robinson

Today is a rather somber day, at our house. It’s a Tuesday. The week is young. I’m busy at work. We, Jo Ann, my wife, and I have a full schedule of events this evening. Yet, there is one other task, on the docket, that gives us cause to pause.


Jo Ann is collecting the ashes of her brother, Dan, today.

In my last column, I wrote of Dan. He recently passed away. The affect and effect he had on our lives was remarkable.

Once Dan knew how little time he had left, he arranged for cremation. Today is the day Jo Ann can pick up his remains, in preparation for his funeral this Saturday. The act struck quite a chord with me and I was relieved that I didn’t have to do it.

I remembered, back, over the course of my life, to the other passings that I faced. Dealing with their remains was difficult. Sometimes the memories are bitter sweet.

After my grandparents passed away, my dad and I stopped in Warren, Rhode Island, near where my Aunt Marny lived, to pick up their ashes. The cremated remains were in two small boxes. We set them in a canvas bag to take with us. It was my task to watch over and guard the ashes, on the final leg of our journey, the drive from Marny’s house to the ferry in Woods Hole and then to the cottage.

When we arrived, on the Vineyard, my niece, Heidi, was little Miss Johnny on the spot. She lived on the island at the time, not far from the cottage. She raced over to see us.

Heidi helped unload the car, my dad’s old VW square back. The first item we carried inside was the ashes. I put them in grandmother’s favourite chair in the living room, but the ashes didn’t stay put. Dad took them upstairs, to the front bedroom, the bedroom used by my grandparents. Their ashes stayed, in that room, until the ceremony out on the Vineyard Sound.


Ceramic jars and a bag of ashes.

With my dad’s ashes, my brothers and I decided a nice ceramic jar would be best. It would make the scattering easier and be a proper memento of the event. We drove over to a little shop in Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard, where we picked out a jar.

We, my brothers and I, worried the jar was too small. We went back to the car and put the plastic bag in the jar. It was too tight a fit. We decided that a bigger jar one was required.

What followed was a downright comical moment. We feared the plastic bag, with Dad inside, would rupture. We struggled desperately, yet carefully, to get the bag out of the jar, without tearing it. We apologized to Dad for being so rough with him.

I think someone voiced concerns over Greg never being able to get Dad out of his car if the plastic ruptured; we were in Greg’s car. We laughed, the brief levity easing our grief and then popped the bag free. Once we had a good and proper jar, it had a sailboat and whale painted on the outside, we headed back to the cottage. The next day, out on a small boat, Steve helped Marny tip the jar and thus Dad joined his parents in eternal peace.

With Steve, my brother, we scattered his ashes along the shore just next to the Inkwell Beach, in Oak Bluffs. I remember so well each of us tossing a bit of his ashes into the Sound and then Greg carrying the remainder further out into the frigid water to complete the process. I

I couldn’t help but think of how cold Greg had to be; how uncomfortable it would be to walk around later with his trousers all wet. Yet, I also knew he wouldn’t mind. This wasn’t merely his brother, wasn’t just his big brother, this was the brother Greg had grown up with, the brother who’d been a part of Greg’s entire life. I imagine a little seawater was just a small inconvenience for Greg.


Now, the last wishes of Dan.

This weekend, my family and I will once more carry out the last wishes of a dear family member. I can only wonder what Dan wants to take place at his funeral. We’re pleased and proud to honour his last wishes when we get there.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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