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a jar of dirt, or how we failed to exhume my great-great-uncle

My great-great-uncle was not actually buried under a tree in that backyard.

But they told me something like that, and I probably only remember it now because the word “illegal” scared me as a child.

Great Great Aunt Julie

Great Great Aunt Julie was my mother’s mother’s mother’s aunt.

Every few months, my grandma chauffered me to Los Angeles to visit Great Great Aunt Julie and Great Grandma Jeanne. I remember those visits fondly – they told me irreverent family stories and sometimes shared their computer games.

Great Great Aunt Julie was a bad bitch. Her vibe was skulls, cats, German beer, and ancient Egypt.

Eventually the polio won. She spent the final years of her life in a tiny bedroom filled with perpetual halloween decor.

Julie lived from 1905-2004; from E=mc² to The Facebook.

Sharpening Memories

Julie’s husband, Wilson, was not buried under a tree in that backyard.

My first clue: even as a child, I remember that they barely had a backyard. It was more like a smoking patio – a few square feet of concrete and three dirty brown cinderblock walls. There was barely enough space for a human to stand there, and definitely not enough space for somebody to lie down indefinitely.

To set the story straight, I called my grandma. Here are the facts:

I asked my grandma if Wilson and his sister-in-law would try to haunt the current homeowners. She said no, because “they’re in heaven now”. I don’t believe in heaven or ghosts, but it’s fun to imagine bitter in-laws haunting an innocuous family with ancient squabbles.

Something Illegal

Shortly after Great Great Aunt Julie died, my family sold the house with the tiny backyard and its subterranean remains.

A subset of my relatives missed the memo. Haunted by the sale of our ancestors, they enacted a good ol’ heist. Under the cover of night, they dug up the rosebushes to exhume the ashes.

The ashes were supposed to be in plastic bags under a particular bush – nope. They dug deeper holes, upended more bushes – nothing.

Afraid that the homeowners would wake and call the police, they put some dirt in an urn and said “good enough”.

A Conspiracy Theory

But Wilson’s ashes were probably not ever buried under that rosebush.

According to my mom, Julie’s neighbors were crooks. They took Julie’s money for vague “chores” that rarely, if ever, happened.

I’m unsure why, but those very neighbors were tasked with burying the plastic bags under the rosebush. If true, those ashes were sent to a much larger landfill.

Fermenting Memories

Great Great Uncle Wilson was not a jar of dirt.

He lived and died and everything in between. Now that entire human lifetime has been reduced to a footnote in a family folktale. I wonder if he spent his 2 billion heartbeats wisely.

I, too, will die. I can already feel myself fermenting into folktales/fables, and I suspect that my risks/ruses/adventures/heists will make the finest wines for future offspring.

Stories are sorry simulacra of human souls, but sometimes a jar of dirt is good enough.