Dead Weight part of Possible Press Vol 2 Issue 2, guest editor Michelle Grabner.
by Sean Ward
voices of Kenneth, Helene and Sean Ward
Saturday was always the day. I was eight or ten. We’d gather into the car to visit the relatives. There had to have been an illegal amount of people in my father’s car. The relatives lived in various places, my father’s father stayed in Mount Olivet, Saint John’s was where my mother’s family remained, and Pine Lawn was the last stop. Sitting in the shade of the pine trees for lunch at Pine Lawn on Long Island was considered special, a treat. We would bury quarters in the dirt.
I have been wrong about many things; this one came as no surprise but became an encompassing series of questions. I always thought that my family had a peculiar relationship with death and the dead, but from what friends have told me, it seems fairly standard. On holidays and sometimes just on a bright cool day, we would visit the cemeteries of our relatives, especially my grandparents, my mother’s parents. We would compete with the other relatives to leave a better arrangement of flowers on their graves. My mother, Helene, and my mother’s brother, Paul, would begin to complain about the arrangement. Not from their perspective but acting out the perspectives of my grandparents, a type of theater. My grandmother always wanted to make sure she got a better arrangement than my grandfather. I always found this curious and absorbing. Only through my mother’s and uncle’s performance of them do I have these memories. The performed memories have been better than a photograph. My imagination can now conjure arresting images of my grandparents based on these plays. We may have buried them but we revisit them by integrating them back into our lives: by performing them, we become them. Talking through, embodying them, or appropriating their voice brings to life something needed to be heard now, a present sense and perhaps a tradition. Traveling with these voices gives us a method of mourning, and perhaps transforms them into a symbol. This is a symbol used for interior development of ourselves. But the questions that remain are ‘Why do we keep them around?, Why do we bring them back? Is it because we think we’re missing something today?’
John Ward, also know as Jack, aka Jack the Fox was a WWI hero medic, a gambler, drinker, womanizer and a thief. My grandmother, Margret Ward put up with his shenanigans for years before his death. She owned a bar, and he worked there until she had to fire him for stealing money from the till. As kids, of course, we had no idea about any of this. We only knew him as Grandpa who would drive us out to New Jersey for pony rides and then stop at various bar and grills. We would eat and he would drink and smoke cigars. He looks like a short Mickey Spillane with his fedora, cigar and later his cane. When he finally died we were sad….but not Grandma. I think I was the only one with any idea about his proclivities because one day I ran into Grandma talking to another woman so I thought I’d hit her up for a dollar. She introduced me to the woman who she said was my Grandpa’s 39 year old girlfriend. Jack the Fox was in his sixties at the time. So when I attended the wake there was no crying. Actually, Grandma had everyone in stitches telling stories about Jack. She said, “So one time when Jack was in the hospital he says to me ‘Oh, Margie when I die don’t bury me all the way out on Long Island in the military cemetery because you’ll never come visit me.’ So I says Jack don’t worry if I buried you in the backyard I wouldn’t visit you!” Then she told stories about how when he would come home drunk and demand his dinner. “So he would sit down in the kitchen and I would give him his spaghetti dinner. When he finished he’d stand up pull a couple of bucks out of his pocket and put it on the table. He was so drunk he thought he was in a restaurant so he left me a tip!”.
Thanksgiving dinner has always been a time to talk about burial plots. How and where we want to be buried, next to who, what type of stone. This often brought to mind specifically crows. Crows ritualize the death of a member in their murder. When one dies in a specific place, crows gather silently for a few moments and then take off without a sound. Remembering the place, those of that murder will most likely never return there, avoiding it. They have buried their dead. Crows are a species of birds that teach and pass along information from generation to generation. Remembering and revisiting old territory, migrating, burial plots and maker of tools, crows adapt to and reflect the human world. They can recognize humans individually, imitate our voices (with training) and have symbolized death, luck, wisdom and trickery in myths throughout cultures. Crows are our reflections. We often say that ‘they seem to know, they’re watching’. Crows are animals we fear and envy. Through their patience and waiting they evoke a collective understanding in us that we fear each other and possibly our own death. Crows are sources of meditation. As we build scarecrows for these birds, the straw-filled clothes strike us in their resemblance. In our chase for immortality, when reminded of our own death we turn to violence. Lately, I’ve wondered, what happens if we remove death?
Here are some classics from Edith Schkrutz, my mother-
- “Don’t come crying to my box” - this was used when you weren’t acting towards her in a loving respectful way as she felt you needed to be.
- Another - “I want to give while my eyes are still open” - this was used when she gave a gift, usually monetary to be enjoyed by the recipient so that she could also derive pleasure from it. I, personally, like that idea.
- And then my own - “ It’s wonderful to celebrate one’s life before they put the lid on you” - meaning, it’s great to be acknowledged & honored while you’re still alive rather than eulogize you after you’re gone - because then, how would you know?!