An Unceremonious Ceremony
It’s kind of funny how you can just cast away tiny particles of life, in the same way you’d empty the contents of a vacuum cleaner into a bin.
I knew I’d be in trouble, I’d crossed the line before and I was about to do it again. With a few decisive snips it was all over, there was no turning back. I had gone from having hair so long it tickled the back of my knee caps, to hair that barely touched the back of my neck. Mum was going to kill me! She had kept a length of my hair from the great chop back when I was eighteen. Preserved in a worn pale-pink hand towel and plaited the very same way it always was.
This was the beginning of what was set to be a very long weekend. With my new freshly cut do I packed some things in my bag and waited for my boyfriend Jon to arrive. We were on a mission - A pilgrimage. Though I knew that he would never quite understand the importance of the ceremony, it was good for him to feel a part of it.
I ticked off the clothing list in my head, just like I always do. Checking I had remembered to bring enough items to cover me for the two days we would be staying. After two thorough run throughs I was physically ready to go. Physically more than mentally, as it was hard to feel anything about the trip. I was excited to be going away for a few days, however, this was dampened by the purpose of the trek.
All I could think of on the drive was how we were going to do it. It had all seemed so simple before, and now the complexity I had failed to recognise earlier, was quickly creeping in. It was a quiet drive besides the feeble attempts Jon made at conversation. I do have to give the boy some credit, he does try really hard.
It was quiet until Jon broke the silence with an exuberant “I spy with my little eye… something beginning with T”.
“Tree?” I mused.
“Yeah you got it!” He said. I thought I best entertain the idea for at least one more round.
“I spy with my little eye… something beginning with…H” I said flatly.
“House?” he answered.
“Ummm….WHORE!” he shouted.
“NOOO. Jon Whore starts with a W not an H”
“Are you sure?” he questioned, and then noticing the look on my face, rushed a very apologetic “Sorry!”
I returned, somewhat deeper into my contemplative stupor. This was just like the time he thought road started with a W.
The rest of the trip was much like the first half. The incessant sunshine slapping the windscreen with unparalleled force as we wound down the country roads. All my thoughts seemed to be tightrope walking together, picking each other off as they vied for my full attention. The piercing quiet made it even harder to focus.
Everything about it was irreverent. Then again, that’s the way she would have wanted it.
We finally arrived at my cousin’s house, after three and a half hours of travelling. Dragging ourselves and our gear up the steep driveway I noticed something that made me laugh for the first time all afternoon.
“Jon, how much stuff did you bring? Your bag is twice the size of mine and overflowing! You’re such a girl!” I scoffed.
He opened his mouth to argue the point, but instead accepted defeat and said nothing. We continued up the front stairs, into impending doom. I had already thanked everyone for their friendship and let them know I wouldn’t make it through the weekend. Mum was going to kill me!
My knocking echoed down the street in the darkness and I took a deep breath, wondering who would greet us behind the big wooden front door.
“Hey guys”, it was my Uncle. Hopefully he would cushion the blow I was about to receive. “How was your trip?”
“Pretty good actually” I answered, ever conscious of the feeling of Mum’s glance burning into the back of my neck. Earlier my hair was long enough to cover that spot.
“Oh Melissa I LOVE your hair!” shouted my Aunty from somewhere beyond the kitchen. If Mum wasn’t scrutinising every strand of hair before, she was now.
“Yeah it’s pretty short, I got it cut today”. Leaning in for a kiss I whispered in my Aunties ear “Mum hasn’t seen it yet”.
The few seconds that I had my back to my mother felt like an eternity. I reluctantly turned to face the jury and was surprised to find that they had yet to make a unanimous verdict. Excellent!
“Hi Mum, hi Dad” I smiled with gritted teeth. I knew that I was safe in mixed company.
The night lingered on with a lovely dinner, drinks and quite topical conversation.
“Oh my god, have you seen the boys with the big bling earring in their ear? They look fucking ridiculous! I had a big bikie guy come in the other day asking for the biggest shiniest one we had and I just looked at him like he was out of his mind. His girlfriend even told him it looked gay! The best part was though, that he didn’t listen to her because his mates came soon after and told him it looked great and that he had to buy it. I can’t stand it”
“It does seem very gay doesn’t it” agreed Mum.
“Yes well you would say that wouldn’t you Mum? Mum isn’t very tolerant of gays or lesbians” I explained.
“Yes I am” she retorted.
“Yes, you tolerate them from a distance” I argued
“Well yes from a distance. I don’t have a problem with gay people. I just wouldn’t want my daughter to be one”
“Really? I wouldn’t care if Mason or Jordan came home one day and said they were gay” said my Aunty.
This went on for a while and was then proceeded to cover topics such as piercings, tattoos, oral sex, my deviant younger brother and finally what we were going to do the next day.
“So how are we going to do this? Does everyone have a spoonful of nana?” Asked mum.
“Watch out you don’t need a can opener. We needed a can opener to get Nan out. Like a can of sardines.” Jon threw in helpfully.
“We were thinking that we would just somehow or another get out there. Just sink the box,” - finally a valid idea from Mum - “someone might one day hook it and bring it back up”. Guess I spoke too soon.
“How disappointing for them” I sighed.
A little drained from the drive and wanting desperately to retreat from any more conversation I started to pack up the empty cups and bottles. Leaning in an almost synchronised fashion as I was putting bottles in the bin my Aunty whispered to me.
“Do you and Jon sleep together?”
“Umm...” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that and thought best not to do so hastily.
“Oh sorry I mean in the same bed!” She quickly interjected, noticing the awkward halt on my part.
“Oh yes if that’s ok with you of course. It’s no big deal, whatever is easiest”
This sorted (although incredibly awkwardly) Jon and I went to bed. In the morning we would have breakfast and then do what we came here to do.
Despite a few minor issues regarding the daylight savings changeover we managed to get ready in time to drive to the beach.
“Have we got nana?” I asked.
“Yes she’s in the boot” answered Dad.
“Don’t leave home without her!” added Mum.
It was a half hour drive between houses and we took in a lot of the scenery along the way. Mum in particular. We must have both caught a glimpse of the candy cane striped barricades only metres from the beach.
“Wonder what that is? Maybe for horses?” asked Mum.
“I think it’s for helicopters” I answered.
“Oh yeah that makes more sense than horses!” she laughed.
When we got to Sue’s house, mum remembered the conversation we had the night before. “Keith you better open the box to make sure that it’s not sealed inside there. We don’t want to get to the beach and not be able to open it!”
So there we were, huddled around the back of Mum’s sedan staring at a single blue box in the midst of hard hats, brochures, paperwork and one oddly placed plastic crocodile. You could have been fooled into thinking the contents weren’t so meaningful. Dad asked to be brought a screw driver - It was a very clinical process.
The box was covered in dust, which he carefully wiped off with a fluro orange hi-vis jacket. He shook it. “Sounds like timber”, he shook it again “oh that’s right she was in a box”. Removing the sticky tape holding on the plastic plaque with her name engraved on it Dad looked for an opening. “Hmm… that doesn’t seem right” he turned it over and found a plug. Grabbing the screwdriver he levered it open, “oh no. There’s the ashes!”
With the lid replaced, the box was secured back in between the crocodile and some brochures on earth moving machinery. We were off. “Wait a second!” Mum shouted. “Hold on I want to read this little stone... I’m-a-gin? Oh.. Imagine!” Good one Mum.
After such unceremonious proceedings it was any wonder how we ever managed to get the day back on track. We regrouped in the car park of the beach. I had my camera, my Uncle had his video camera and my Dad had the box. The scene was nothing short of ridiculous.
Teetering between peaks of the putrid wood grain and charcoal black rocky shore, I noticed that each step pressed deeper into the soles of my feet. After a hundred metres or more of undulating ground a wave of relief washed over me as my toes embraced the soft-coarse sand. There is a certain understanding that wet earth has as it moulds to your feet, a sort of unspoken empathy. Such a small gesture from nature was exactly what I needed on a day like that.
Our entourage passed surfers, fisherman and sunbakers, all oblivious to our task. We needed a secluded spot where we could hold the “official decommissioning”, as Mum had called it. I would have much rather sat and watched the unrelenting waves throwing themselves at the shore. With a determined pace they would swell and cascade upon the sand, each one seeming more futile than the last. She liked this place and I could see why.
We walked on until we were far enough away from any onlookers. Of eight children, thirty-something grand children and an unknown number of great grand children only five were present.
Dad hiked up his denim shorts as high as they would go.
“It looks like you’re wearing a nappy!” Mum laughed.
Screw driver in one hand, Nan in the other, Dad walked out into the water. “She didn’t have peace in life, so let’s give her some peace now” He paused “and put her back together”. He should have stopped after “now”. I was trying my hardest to be reverent - since the occasion called for it – but I couldn’t bring myself to any form of sensibility, not after the unintentional jigsaw analogy.
Dad opened the lid of the speckled blue box, and slowly tipped out the precious cargo we’d been couriering around. It’s kind of funny how you can just cast away tiny particles of life, in the same way you’d empty the contents of a vacuum cleaner into a bin.
The process seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t help myself; I’d held a straight face for far too long. I broke into hysterics as the ash kept billowing out of its container. In an effort to explain my uncontrollable laughter and save at least some credibility – as it will forever be heard on the video of the “ceremony” - I called to Dad “That’s a lot of ash!” and he called back “She was a lot of woman”. That didn’t help.
A long black wave of ash was spreading away from Dad as he tipped the last few grains into the ocean. He turned to walk back to the shore, but was followed by a cloud of murky water.
Mum always so observant noted as he emerged from the water “Hey Keith, you were covered in your mum!”
He replied “Yep, she will be with me forever, not that she wasn’t going to be anyway.”
The next few minutes were filled with empty silence, which Mum broke by saying “I think I might like to be put in the ocean too!”
Recomposing myself I took a few photos of the plaque engraved with Nan’s name on it. Mum was only too obliging to bring sea weed and shells to make the pictures a bit more authentic.
We placed the plaque in the middle of a big patch of clean sand and drew a heart around it. Above the plaque we placed stones that read MUM and below NAN. These were probably the most serious and reflective moments of the whole trip.
Maintaining the solemn tone we had managed to find, we walked back along the beach. Our entourage passed sunbakers, fisherman and surfers, who were still all oblivious the task we had undertaken.
When we got back into the car, Dad said emphatically, “We’ve been, we’ve done. It’s over”. A very fitting end to a very unceremonious ceremony.