My in-laws moved in with me last Sunday. They arrived with my brother-in-law, Peter, who held a suitcase in one hand and two, precariously balanced wooden boxes in the other.
People coming into my house are always greeted with the dulcet tones of puggle chorus, and this day was no exception. I attempted to calm Jack and Casey while they ran back and forth between Peter and the dining room table, where dinner now lay unattended. Ultimately they split, Jack moving in for the attack and Casey using her Ninja skills to try to snatch a perogie. I shooed her away from the table only to have her join the attack, which suddenly looked for all the world like it would succeed. They were going to knock Peter down. He was still standing there trying to hold all his baggage while fending off attack puggles.
He and I both realized immediately this couldn’t end well. I cracked a joke about not wanting to have to find the dustbuster and took the top box from him, which contained my father-in-law.
Actually, it still does contain him. We haven’t had any unfortunate accidents, knock wood (but not too hard, if you’re knocking on this particular box).
They’re called “cremains” by the way. I love that word. It sounds exactly like what it is. You see fancy urns and things but the truth is, the default method of transporting cremains is in a bag. Usually plastic in paper. You want anything more than that, it’s a serious upgrade. At some point my brother-in-law got these nice wooden boxes for them. They look exactly like what we store our silver place-settings in. But inside the boxes? Bag o’ cremains. Dusty.
I never met my in-laws. I wish I had. CC loves my parents, both sets. They completely adore him– most days more than they like me. Everything I know about his parents comes from stories and few pictures. We have a corner display of photographs of them in the living room. A former babysitter framed them all as a Christmas gift to us, and after the kids repainted the house last year, I rearranged the montage.
I look at the pictures and I see everyone in their faces: a future #5 in the photo of my father-in-law in uniform at age twenty; how much #1 looks like her grandma and what a knockout she was; how this photo is #4′s chin and this one is #3′s eyes, and I see CC in every single photo.
[This is not to leave out #2. It's just that she looks exactly like her mom. Her paternal family resemblance is pretty much limited to her sense of humor and her kitchen skills, which are two of my favorite things about her dad.]
My in-laws’ former resting place was inside their old liquor cabinet at Peter’s house, an antique they used throughout their lives that now gives off a permanent, heady perfume of booze-soaked wood. By all accounts, I’m told they would have felt quite comfortable there. But Peter is moving to a far-away state. There’s a family plot in Brooklyn in which we’d like to intern them, soon as we can work out who has the deed. No one quite remembers.
It makes sense for them to move in with us until then, and really, it’s the least I can do. Their youngest son–their late, midlife surprise, who turns fifty today– is the light of my life. I never had the opportunity to tell them how he brings me joy; that in spite of all their challenges, they did a good job. He’s strong. He has values they gave him which he protects and passes on to his own children. He’s a good man. I never got to witness his mother’s musical talent or his father’s jokes. I want them to know he plays the hell out of a guitar and how much he makes people laugh. I wish I could have poured them a drink and said, “Thank you. Nice work.”
So for now I dust off the boxes–wondering, of course whether it’s regular dust or other dust– and look for a safe place for them to rest, in peace, temporarily.
The night they moved in, #4 was doing her regular bedtime routine, the one where she takes forty minutes from the time you tell her to go to bed to the time she actually gets in the bed. She’s thirteen now and I’ve stopped fighting it. I figure as long as she’s in bed before the sun rises, that’s a win.
The third time she danced out of her bedroom, she spun all the way through the kitchen and ended up in the dining room, in front of the sideboard, where the boxes were stacked.
#4: What are these?
I was unprepared. I went with the truth, because I didn’t have a good lie at the ready.
Me: Grandma and Grandpa.
I got up to join her, but it was too late; she had opened the top box. I could see her mind working, processing what I said with what she was seeing, making the connection.
She closed the lid and backed away slowly.
#4: Oh. You meant. The actual. Person.
Me: Yeah. You okay?
#4: Um. I’m going to bed now.
Grandparents can always get your kids to obey better than you can.
Feel free to wish CC a happy 50th birthday in the comments section, since he doesn’t have his own blog.