Palm Beach Shores
April 17, 2012
If it fits, we ship. There she was. My mom. In that 4x6x2 inch US Post Office carton. Most of the rest of her ashes are interred next to my dad’s grave in Pittsfield, MA.
Way back before she died in 2005, she began telling me how she wanted her burial and funeral arrangements to go. A pillow in her den read, “I’m not pushy, I just have better ideas.” You get the point.
Outside in the real world, I was a successful teacher, respected by colleagues and parents in the community, an honest to goodness adult.
But every time I walked into the door of 15 Coltland Drive, I became an adult son, emphasis on the son part. You do what your mother tells you. I swear, some days I felt like I was standing in the kitchen in short pants with a bag of marbles in my pocket. So, when she told me she wanted to be cremated, did not want a wake, and did want me to throw a party for her after her funeral, that’s exactly what I did.
‘I want some of my ashes to go in the plot with your father,” She also said, “I want to wear a hot red dress for the cremation.”
“And I’d like to have some ashes scattered down at Palm Beach Shores at the Lake Worth Inlet.” I hunted around the house and found a pretty Japanese vase, a wedding present that had sat in the living room ever since I could remember.
“Perfect,” she said. I felt like I’d earned a gold star. The sense of approval from a parent never gets old.
Elena had spent a couple of months in Palm Beach Shores (Singer Island) every winter after she and my dad bought a condominium there in the 1970s. My dad, my mom’s sister and her husband, and my sister and her two young sons were in the annual rotation from January through March.
Elena was a regular at the pool, played cards with the ladies, and strolled around the beach. Late in the afternoon, her favorite jaunt was to head a half mile down to the Lake Worth Inlet, a deep-water canal for cargo and pleasure vessels bound to and from West Palm Beach. Over time, benches were built along a stretch of the inlet. Tourists, condo owners, and local fisherman would banter or just sit to watch the endlessly changing seascape
“Going there when my brother and I had school vacations is one of my biggest memories from when I was little,” says my elder nephew Chris. “I remember Poppi putting the bait on my fishing poles in the first years we went, and after that even Nonni did it for me. We used to fish way out by the abandoned water tower at the end of the jetty.”
A robust tidal current was always running. The water was that impossible Florida blue, the kind New Englanders dream about when they’re shoveling a foot of snow in January. Today, I wasn’t shoveling snow. I was keeping a promise. I was about to scatter Elena’s ashes into the canal.
The next day, the page would be turned on the condo at Mayan Towers North. My nephews had resisted selling the small unit and I can’t blame them. When one of your fondest memories is being bundled up to fly down to Florida and spend time with doting grandparents who take you everywhere and show you off like prizes, it’s hard to let go.
I found a gold rimmed bowl in the condo, poured Elena’s ashes into it and smiled. She would have loved the synchronicity, another piece of her china used to hold her ashes. I’m not sure how she’d feel about the can of cold Bud Light I brought along to seal the deal, champagne was more her style for an occasion. But I had no doubt she'd agree that a libation was part of the ceremony.
It took me an hour to work up the resolve to fling her into the onshore breeze. At 7:30 PM, the sun about to settle into the horizon, I timed the swells rolling down the inlet, saw one particularly determined one about to crest in front of me and flung Elena’s ashes from the delicate bowl. The fresh breeze held the powdery remains in a glorious translucent gray cloud that trailed along the inlet, the heavier particles spilling into the water at my feet.
Floating along in the dissipating cloud came the memory of my mom singing to me when I was little until I fell asleep.
I loved to watch trains of all kinds with my grandfather, who often took me to the train depot at the edge of town to watch what he called “the roundhouse,” a huge lazy-susan arrangement that would turn the locomotives around to send them down a different track. Sort of like the track I was sending my mother along with right now.
I was fascinated watching endlessly long processions of coal cars, ice cars, gondolas, tank cars, low riders packed with iron, cattle cars, boxcars in a metallic rainbow of colors, each bearing the symbol or lettering of companies from distant states that made me think of the wild west, and those funny looking cabooses and the grizzled men in railroad hats standing on the rear deck, who would, if I had a great stroke of luck, wave to me and my grandfather (Elena’s father), as we watched them from the hillside above the depot.
Elena knew these images ruled the rails of my imagination. After she tucked me into bed, she would sit beside me in the dark and make up songs about the colorful procession of freight cars…I could hear her softly singing those songs to me as her cloud vanished into the wind.