I don’t come from a large family, I only had three cousins in the area. It was my Dad’s sister’s family: two boys and a girl. They were Army brats and moved a lot, but eventually settled on our street. The girl was my age and we were inseparable growing up all the way through high school. She would escape to my house to get away from her pesky older brothers. I had my first kiss at the brothers’ party at their house.
Adulthood happens. Bill, the oldest cousin, was now thirty-two years old. He was married with three children: a four-year old girl, a three-year old girl and a nine month old baby boy. His wife was a stay-at-home-mom. I was also married, but no kids yet.
On October 31st his wife was home getting the children dressed for Halloween. She was waiting for their Daddy to get home from work and take the kids Trick Or Treating.
He never got there.
On his way home from work on Halloween night, he was struck head on by a drunk driver . . . and killed instantly.
His wife, wondering why he was late getting home, had to receive the news while the kids were in costumes. It was the most tragic of tragic — a young mother, children too little to understand, a senseless accident occasioned by stupidity. On Halloween.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were just around the corner –but it would be just the first of many holiday seasons missing a Daddy, a husband, a son, a brother, and there had been no chance to say goodbye. It rocked our entire family. It was devastatingly sad.
The services were, of course, well attended. The steering wheel had gone through my cousin’s chest and broken his jaw, but his face was otherwise intact and they were able to have an open casket. There was a viewing , the funeral itself, the burial and the reception.
It’s difficult to describe how heartbreaking it all was. There were tears from three generations, a pretty and petite mother of three– it seemed like a slight breeze could blow her away, bouncing preschool girls, a cutie-pie fat and happy baby boy, grieving parents, siblings, friends, aunts and uncles, and yes . . . cousins. It’s been years and years, but I still think of it, the horror of his senseless death.
When we arrived at the funeral reception, my then husband turned to me and said something I’ve never been able to forget.
“I’m not going to do this all day.”
Just Me With . . . no words.
P.S. This is backstory. The accident happened years ago, but understandably I think about it every Halloween. The drunk driver did some time, I don’t recall how much. It got him off the road, but it didn’t bring my cousin back. My cousin’s wife grieved hard but recovered as much as a person can. She received a settlement from the insurance and never hurt for money. She eventually remarried a family friend and had one more child. The children grew up well, the whole family keeps their father’s memory alive. That nine month old baby boy grew up to look a lot like the Dad he never knew. The girls, young women now, are beautiful, healthy and happy. His parents routinely visit the grave and leave fresh flowers on holidays. I say all this because I don’t want it to appear like I’m using this horrible tragedy just for blog fodder about me. As I said, it’s that time of year; it’s on my mind. And my husband’s statement to me at the funeral reception has haunted me for years . . . and it’s scary.
Ah yes, my landscaping work. The back yard was a mess. There was a retaining wall that wasn’t retaining much, there were stepping-stones beneath inches of wet decaying leaves and muck, there was mud. There were bricks, rocks, slate and overgrown I don’t know whats. My raking just to clear the path turned into landscaping which turned into demolition of a retaining wall which turned into completely regrading the yard.
This required digging, and dig I did. I removed pounds of dirt, along with natural stone, and man-made brick and concrete. I made archeological finds — railroad ties, nails, barn and shutter hinges all likely from the 1800’s. I uncovered a mysterious large concrete block with an iron pipe through it — still don’t know what the heck that was, but it was too heavy and went too deep for me to move so I buried it again.
I removed brush and plantings gone wild. Dig around the roots, flip and pull. It was kinda cool. And I was transforming my new home from a very scary place to what I hoped would be a cute little Victorian actually worthy of saving rather than one step from the wrecking ball. The kids were, as usual, and like many of today’s healthy red-blooded children, inside. They were enjoying some sort of technology, while I toiled outside in the fresh air. I was on my own. No power tools. No help.
When I was digging and moving earth I pulled up some trash bag type plastic. Okay, I’d already pulled a lot of this stuff up. The prior owners used garbage bags as landscaping fabric. As I pulled I saw that the garbage bag had something light-colored in it –some white cloth. I wondered, “Now what could this be? A buried treasure, maybe?” I dug and pulled.
Just like with the shrubs gone wild, I dug around it, started to flip it out of the dirt, reached down (with gloves of course) for one last pull . . . and . . .
I’m not usually a screamer.
But when I pulled, the bag ripped open and the cloth fell out. The cloth was stained, had something stuck to it, something . . . that appeared . . . to . . . be —- HAIR !!!! This is what turned me into a screamer.
I ran inside to get a kid, any one of them would do. I needed a witness (well actually, support). The youngest ones were curious enough to venture out into the sun. And we, of course, did the mature thing.
We took a stick and poked at it.
Because, not only was it a cheese cloth like old world material, brown blood stained and showing bits of hair type stuff, it had a bulge in it.
So, we poked some more.
My optimistic child said the bits of hair like stuff was really mulch. Gotta love her — but the stuff was not mulch. I untangled the cloth with a stick, revealed and uncovered . . . some skin, a skull and bones. EWWWWWWW!
I had exhumed a pet of the prior owners. I didn’t need to call in CSI or NCIS or any of the Law and Order folks to figure that out. Thank God it wasn’t the remains of a human. Remember, this is the 150 year old house of Piss, Puke, and Porn — it could have been anything.
By the size and shape of the skull I surmised that this thing had once been a guinea pig, maybe a rabbit, possibly a kitten. It must have been a cherished pet at one time since it seemed to have had a proper burial — complete with a white shroud. And, I presume, it was resting in peace. That is, until I got to it. EWWWWWW!
There is a beautiful contemporary country song, sung by Miranda Lambert, featured on her album, Revolution, called “The House That Built Me.” It’s about a troubled adult going back to visit her childhood home to get grounded. Miranda sings to the current owners of her old house. . .
I bet you didn’t know under that live oak,
My favorite dog is buried in the yard.
Yeah, okay, Miranda. Love the song, it makes me cry. But as the new owner of the former childhood home of somebody, where somebody buried their pet in the yard and moved away — only to leave poor unsuspecting landscaping me to dig it up . . . well, it’s not quite the same sentiment.
More sticks and a shovel were used to dispose of the remains, remains that the kids now wanted to keep. I caved and we left the skull out for the rest of the day. Other critters must have carried it away during the night because it was gone by morning.
Just Me With . . . lots of dirt, a shovel, and apparently — a pet cemetery. EWWWWW!!!!!
This house had some bad mojo, no joke. See, What Happened In My House? Murder?