Son and I were talking about funerals. Actually, I think we were watching something on TV and someone in the story was purchasing a casket for a loved one who had just departed this vale of tears.
I never know whether it's veil of tears or vale of tears. Not that it matters. We leave one or the other sooner or later.
Whatever. At one point the price of your average going-away party was mentioned, and son just about jumped out of his socks.
"$5,000 for a casket? Come on, now! That can't be right!"
It had been many years since I sat son down and enlightened him about the physical facts of life. I didn't know at the time that the day would come when I'd need to do a similar thing with the financial facts of death.
I only hoped I could do a better job the second time around.
"That's nothing," I said. "Some people spend a great deal more than that." I mentioned a couple of figures. He was outraged.
"What an awful waste of money! Why do people think that's necessary?"
"Same reason people build much larger houses than they need or buy hundred-thousand-dollar cars. For show, to keep up with the Joneses."
"Not the same thing," he said. "You can live in one and drive the other. Can't do much in a casket. And not much good trying to keep up with the Joneses if both you and the Joneses are dead."
I had to concede that last point, at least.
"All you need when you get right down to it," he went on, warming to his subject, "is a pine box."
"Sure," I said, "I'd look good to your average mourner lying in a pine box. You don't think there might be a scattered comment among the hale and hearty as to my cheapness or the cheapness of my family?"
"It was good enough for Tombstone and Boot Hill in Dodge City. Or better still, you could use quarter-inch plywood, good one side."
"Where would you put the good side, facing in or out?" I don't know if he caught the sarcasm or not. "I don't think you're allowed to be buried in a cheap wooden box."
"Someone was telling me just today that because of environmental concerns, your coffin has to have a lifetime guarantee."
"That's totally stupid," he exploded. "Whose lifetime guarantee? The corpse? If he's saved and born again and all that stuff and into eternal life, that could be a long time."
"I know it's stupid," I said. "I just wanted to know if you knew."
"Apart from the coffin they carry you off in," he went on, "what costs so much?"
"Well, you have to pay the organist and the minister and the funeral home expenses."
"What about the fellows who dig the grave and the backhoe operator and the rent for the machine?"
"I'm sure that all fits in there somewhere. Dying, my son, is big business. On second thought, it's not the dying that's so expensive, it's the burying. It's like the old song says, 'When it's all over you're still in the hole.'"
"What old song is that?" I knew he was trying to catch me because I'm always quoting old songs and old poems that people say don't exist. But this one does.
He was thoughtful for a moment.
"Well, I can tell you right now, Father my son, I have no intention of anyone spending that amount of money on me. I'll stipulate that in my will, and I'll have a copy mailed to every single soul in this family who gives a hoot about me one way or the other.
"And another thing, it's bad enough to put a $5,000 casket in the ground to rot. There's no need to throw good money after bad and dress me up in good clothes."
"You want to be buried naked?"
"That's how I came into the world. Might as well go out the same way. Besides, there's no need to wear anything on the bottom half."
"I don't think any of your family, whoever they are at that time, will be happy knowing that your bottom half is lying there stark naked. Even though, hopefully, I'll be long dead, I won't be too happy about it myself, to say nothing of your poor mother who'll be mortally embarrassed. She won't show her nose out in Heaven for a year. And who knows? You might arrive in heaven half naked. Your mother would send you right back to put on some decent clothes."
That last bit got to him. That could be even more embarrassing than walking into Heaven naked.
Loudspeaker announcement: "Attention all saints, angels, archangels, seraphim and ordinary citizens. A half-naked man has been seen running down Heavily Spirit Boulevard (I assume streets in heaven have names). He may be the same streaker seen recently in Rapture Place. Caution is advised."
I know. Some of you don't think talking about funerals is very funny. You're right, if you had to attend one of those lately for someone you care about.
On the other hand, I bet some of the best jokes you know come from that particular context. Everything from "Oh my God, she's killed!" to "This time you be more careful!"
So, go ahead, don't be afraid to laugh! And don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't laugh at. Laugh at whatever strikes you funny.
It might help you stay out of the hole a bit longer.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is email@example.com.