But what did Charles love? What would he have liked? Present Charles loved his family and his home. And the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Past Charles loved a time when he was young, single and free, living in Florida and visiting Key West every weekend. After a beer or two he would often speak of his good times there, how pretty it was, the color of the water. I am sure there are things that happened there that he remembered fondly but never would have shared with me.
So, I came up with a plan. Some of the ashes would be mixed with the mortar of the foundation for the addition to the house that my kids were building and would live in. We would mix them in as a family unit, just me and my son, my daughter in law, my grandsons. Some would go with Ed, faithful friend and companion, to the Folk Festival. The rest would go down to Key West with me. I would ask Carol to go with me. Perfect.
I thought it would be no particular big deal to open the container, take out some ashes, find the appropriate containers and portion them off.
However: Carrying the container to the kitchen counter, my back began to spasm. I ignored that, and cut the seal. The ashes were packed in a plastic bag tucked sideways into the container, and I decided if I took the whole bag out I might never get it back in, or it would spill or something. So, I cut a small hole in the top of the bag. Then I had to decide what to use to scoop them out. I chose a silver spoon. THEN I had to figure out what to do with the spoon - I mean, do you just rinse it off? All this time, the back is going like an accordian. Then, I had to figure out how much - a cup? cup and a half? Then I realized I was sobbing. I don't know whether having someone to do this with you would help. It just sucked but it was the right thing to do.
I took out about a cup of Chuck and put it in a tupperware container. I dropped in some dried yellow roses. I wrapped the tupperware container in his favorite hawaiian shirt and stuffed everything into a USPS priority box. My husband was a postal carrier for thirty five years, and I ended up mailing them from the post office where he worked. As I stood in line, feeling bereft, sad, I noticed an old woman standing at the stamp machine. My mother! We just coincidently ended up at the post office the same time, so she waited in line with me.
Three days later I am in Key West.
Carol - my best travel buddy and a long time friend of C's - and I wake up late our second morning and have tea in the bed and breakfast kitchen. Afterward, we stop at the front table to see if the 'package' has arrived. It has not.
The concierge inquires what was in it. I said, My husband. Well, not all of him. (my voice sort of trails off) Thank God for Carol. She saved the day by saying Ashes, so she does not think I am some sort of serial murderer shipping body parts around the country.
She nods solemnly and says, Are you going out on the boat?
I said, I had no real plans - I was sort of waiting to see what would develop.
She said, Oh the guys on this boat are wonderful, do this all the time, they make sure everything goes okay. Shall I make reservations?
I said, that would be great, but the ashes are not here.
She said, I will make your reservations for tomorrow night and you know what, I bet they will arrive this afternoon.
We leave her to make the arrangements for our trip on a beautiful yacht called The Danger for sunset the next day.
We went for a walk down to the docks and did some shopping. All day I had fantasies of the package never arriving, that the address somehow was wrong and that upon returning home, Charles and his shirt and the roses would be sitting on my porch waiting for me. Carol and I both saw C everywhere - Key West is full of middle aged balding handsome sunburnt men wearing baseball caps, t-shirts, hawaiian shirts and jean shorts and hirachi sandals. We took a sight-seeing trolley and I was ambushed by the grief terrorists when we parked in front of Sloppy Joes - a bar that C often spoke of. Thank God for my big sunglasses.
Late afternoon, shopped out and slightly sunburnt despite the 50 sunscreen, we trudged back to the B and B, and the first thing we saw was the box that holds C, on the bureau in our room.
Early the next evening, I put Charles in my pocket book and Carol and I went down to the dock and bought our tickets for the boat. Carol and I talked about just how I was going to do this. I said I was just waiting to see what would develop, and I didn't know whether the woman who had made our reservations had told the boat company what I was planning. When we got the tickets at the kiosk, we realized that the woman there had no idea. Neither did the WEDDING PARTY getting on the boat or the mostly drunk already couples. I decided I didn't want a big public thing, a lot of attention, and I certainly didn't want to ruin all these festive people's good times.
Carol suggested that since nobody seemed to know what we were doing there, we might as well just wait for our opportunity and put the cremains over the side, quietly. I said that worked for me, and I also decided that if an opportunity did not happen, I would take them down to the end of the pier after the trip. It was so beautiful there on the water at the dock all of this seemed okay. It was a spot that I recall Charles had talked about, that is was a tradition to watch the sunset there.
So Carol and I and the cremains get on the boat and are sitting down waiting to set sail. There are two boats going out, and each has a crew and we are next to each other in the marina. People are milling around and the crew is giving us the "here are your life jackets' talk. Suddenly there is a crash on the other boat and the captain of it is down on the deck, writhing in pain. Everyone on both boats is watching to see what is going on. He apparently fell and broke his ankle. There is much scurrying around with ice and such. Cellphones are pulled out and ambulances called. Suddenly I realize NO ONE was watching me, they are all facing the other way.
So, I pop Charles out of my purse, unscrew the top of the plastic container and woosh! Over the side he goes, with the dried yellow roses from my wedding bouquet. The ashes sink immediately and the roses swirled around, the petals breaking apart and drifting in all different directions.
It was okay. Carol smiled and hugged me. We leaned over the side and waved good bye. I choked up. I choked up a little through the whole cruise, but nobody knew, it was totally private and I owned the moment. Carol and I watched the wedding party toast. We watched some of the drunker passengers try to hit on the crew. We had bad wine out of paper cups and ate dip on celery sticks. We didn't talk much. Then we watched the sun go down on the horizon from this beautiful sail boat, and on the way back in, dophins swam back and forth in front of us. They jumped out of the water and smacked their tails just like Seaworld.
It was okay.