by Shirley Palmer

This is a story that we can laugh about now, however as it unfolded I was “shaking in my boots” as the saying goes. It was October 1984, a warm day in Southern California. My Mother-in-law had passed away on September 10, 1984 in Cave Junction, Oregon. Her instructions were that she was to be cremated and she wanted half of her ashes to go down the same river where my Father-in-law’s ashes had been strewn in 1978 when he passed away. His ashes went down a river which was his favorite fishing hole. So ½ of her ashes were to go down the same river in Oregon and she wanted the other ½ divided – ½ on her Mother’s grave and ½ on her Father’s grave – both buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, Ca. The instructions were explicit, and all of her family understood, so after her Memorial service at her Church the family men set off for the fishing hole and dumped a portion of the ashes into the river. We women of the family chose to stay home and fix dinner, since there were a lot of rattle snakes in the area of the fishing hole, and we didn’t choose to encounter them!

Now we are back in Southern California on this hot October day and my brother-in-law and Bud’s sister (Carole) had driven up from San Diego and the four of us were to drive to Forest Lawn (with the bag of ashes in hand) and put half on Grandma’s grave & half on Grandpa’s grave. Only detail is that in California you just can’t put ashes anywhere – and sprinkling them on the top of a grave is not allowed. Friday night we sat down and planned our strategy – we needed a “master plan” to accomplish this illegal “caper”!! We decided that we would get up in the morning, have breakfast, then go over to Von’s Market and buy some flowers. We’d go to Forest Lawn – take the vase out – put some ashes under the vase, then fill it with flowers and go on to the next grave and do the same thing – and easy as that, Bud’s Mother’s wishes would have been complied with.

Saturday was a very warm day so I decided to wear a sundress. My sister-in-law had long pants & a blouse on (this is an important detail of the story). We drove up to Forest Lawn and after about 10 minutes of searching we finally found Grandma’s grave. Well we couldn’t find the vase to start with, but Bud with his trusty pocket knife dug around the grass and we finally located the vase, cut all the grass away from it – however try as we might – the vase would not come out of the ground. We pulled and tugged and twisted – all to no avail. There was a lady putting flowers on a grave about 25 yards up from us and I noticed she got her water from the faucet – but was watching us. She arranged her flowers – but still had an “eagle eye” on us. I told my family that we were being watched. About then Bud went to my car, looking for something to pry the vase loose. He here he comes up with the jumper cables, which was all I had in my trunk. He thought he might be able to grab on to the handle of the vase with the grips on the cables and pull it free. Once the jumper cables came out, the “spy” lady got in her car and left. I told my co-harts that I was nervous, but they were too busy trying to free the vase they didn’t pay any attention to me. It wasn’t five minutes and here comes the Forest Lawn Police Car pulling up and parking right behind my car.

Here we are the 4 of us – standing over a grave with a bag of ashes, a bouquet of flowers and jumper cables – it doesn’t look good. My sister-in-law handed me the bag of ashes and said, “Shirley, sit down quick on the ashes – you have a dress on and it will cover them up”!! So down I plopped sitting on the bag and holding the bouquet in my lap. The Forest Lawn policeman came up and asked if we were having a problem?? Bud explained that we couldn’t seem to get the vase out of Grandma’s grave. So the nice police man offered to help us!! He went to his car and got something like a crowbar and came back and BAM – he broke the vase. So we took it out in pieces and he told us not to worry – he’d go get us another one! So off he went in search of a new vase. Bud put the damn jumper cables away – I know that’s what brought the cop in the first place, and my sister-in-law (Carole) who had become the Matriarch of the family told me to stay seated – don’t move!!! The grass was a little damp, but hey – I did what I was told.

Back came the cop with a new vase – it didn’t fit – so off he went again. I wanted to pour some ashes in the empty hole while he was gone, but I was voted down as he might see them and become suspicious – maybe we’d go to jail!!! Yikes – was I a part of a criminal offense – just trying to oblige my Mother-in-law’s wishes. So there I sat for a never-ending time it seemed to me. Finally the vase arrived and nothing would do but the cop had to go fill it with water. We thanked him profusely and he just stood around chit chatting with the guys – he’d served in Vietnam etc etc. Meanwhile I’m still stuck on the ground concealing “the evidence”!! Then he did tell us that the lady that I had suspected (of spying) had reported us as having jumper cables at the grave. Bud responded, “Honestly, officer, I wasn’t trying to jump-start my Grandma”!! He laughed and finally left and I didn’t move until his car was out of sight!!

By this time I had sat on the ground so long I could barely get up. We quickly went about our chore and said “Praise the Lord” -we have complied with Mom’s wishes – almost! We still had to do Grandpa. His grave was across the street from Grandma’s and when we got there, we found the exact same situation that we had encountered before. Grass had grown over the vase. I spoke up and said, “I don’t know about the rest of you – but I’m not going through that experience again – no way!” They all agreed – but what to do??? So my sister-in-law and I took off our shoes – dumped the ashes onto the grass on the top of the grave and worked them into the grass with our bare feet – illegal – but accomplished. We did a very good job – nobody would have noticed.

And so goes the story of our near brush with the law. The four of us laughed all the way home until the tears were rolling down our cheeks. We knew Bud’s mother was up in heaven looking down on us and having one of her big belly laughs. She had one of the heartiest laughs ever. It was a story never to be forgotten. Our sister-in-law and brother-in-law have since passed on, but to this day I’ll always remember that week-end.
All of our careful planning – it was such a good plan. If only my husband hadn’t gotten out those damn jumper cables – but then there wouldn’t have been this story to tell.

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  1. Connie Wiens Says:

    Great story Shirl, Bud’s mother would have loved it!..connie

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