The Newcomer

Bring on the Grim Reaper-we're ready for him!


My birthday and recovery from cancer surgery happened in the same month so cards were coming in by the bale. As I received them, I tucked them into an album, which is something I'd never done with greeting cards before, but, hey, I had time on my hands!

One card provoked roars of laughter, which is a bit painful when the laughs are being filtered around a stapled stomach. The card had a picture of a looming Grim Reaper dressed in his usual black and carrying a scythe. It said, "Relax, I'm only here for the cake!"

I appreciated that card more than the ones with a religious tone cautioning me to accept the woes of this world because something better awaited me in the next. While that may be true (I'll have to wait and see), I had my eyes on the here and now.

I wasn't ready to go!

And my mother wasn't ready to let me go either.

She called me from her home in Walla Walla, all cranky, and started scolding me. She said things like "Children shouldn't die before their parents!", as if I had chosen this disease to personally attack her.

I assured her that I would try my best not to let that happen, and I wished her a long, healthy, happy life.

She, in turn, dropped her cranky voice, replaced it with a grumpy, resigned tone and said, "Well, I've got an extra burial plot, if you need it."

Now that really set the stitches on fire because I was laughing so hard.

It was no surprise that mother had several extra burial plots tucked away. She was the kind who had her closets full of ice skates, roller blades, tennis rackets and clothes to fit every size, even though she and her husband, my step-father, lived alone.

Mother wasn't exactly a packrat, but she had lived through the depression when she had to raise her own chickens when Hoover didn't come through with his promise of "a chicken in every pot".

As someone who had seen tough times, she became a collector. She collected string and rubber bands and wound them into big balls that collected dust. She collected tinfoil and pressed that into balls. Paper bags were kept so she would be sure to have one to burn when one of the neighborhood kids or her brothers got a ringworm. The sticky residue that formed when the bags were burnt was said to contain iodine. Whatever it was, it cleared the skin aggravations right up.

Mother not only collected a wide variety of things that fell to her free, she also purchased items on sale. That's how she filled her closets with all those clothes that didn't fit her, but could always be pulled out when someone else needed a sweater, a jacket, a pair of shoes.

When mother died in the autumn six years ago, her casket was lowered into one of those burial plots she had purchased "just in case".

She left behind three or four other burial plots, still to be filled. A sister of mine glommed on to ownership of them and I don't know who will be planted in them.

I know it won't be me. I intend to go up in smoke, and whatever is left over will be slipped into my father's grave, which, by the way, was provided for him by my grandmother, the mother of my mother, who also had purchased a quantity of burial plots when they were on sale in the early 1930s.

Apparently, thriftiness in a German family is inherited.


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