Harry’s wife, Mildred, had told him they would do anything he wanted for his birthday. I don’t think she expected him to say he wanted the town undertaker to come by, but she was true to her word, so Mildred put on the coffee pot and welcomed me in. They were a delightful couple, and I’m not just saying that because Harry called me the “Beauty Queen Belle of Boring” when I arrived.
“So in the most customary sense,” Harry asked me, “a green burial means a person is buried in a container that can decompose, along with the remains, and return to the earth’s soil. You’re saying this can be achieved by being laid to rest in my favorite comforter or sheet? Do I need a specific type of casket?
“Yes, birthday boy! You got it. Do you have a favorite blanket or comforter?
Harry got up and walked to the back bedroom to look. Five, maybe ten minutes passed …. Mildred and I look at each other, concerned. She was pushing up from her sunken spot in the couch when Harry reappeared around the corner. He told us to hang on and shuffled down the hall as Old Man Harry, but a few minutes later a rather youthful, proud Harry returned, holding a kitchen cleaver and a bushel of bamboo.
“Can your people make me a big enough box out of this stuff?”
“Oh, Harry,” Mildred piped in. “That is so foolhardy.” She gave him a hard time, but Harry was on the right track.
“Actually,” I said, “Earth-friendly caskets are crafted out of a variety of materials: wood, willow, banana leaves, even bamboo branches. Absolutely no metals, plastics, stains, varnishes or oils are used, but bamboo is just perfect.”
Harry knew a thing or two about this already, had read about it in Mother Jones of all places and was well versed in the world of eco-coffins. “They’re made out of recycled paper, cardboard, there is even a wicker that looks like a pea pod and comes in lots of colors. There are lots of people who want something handmade and biodegradable — no chemical glues or other toxic components.”
Who was this fella? Mildred was probably thinking. “Is that so?” She said.
Harry nodded and said, “There’s also a lot more praise for holding the ceremony somewhere dear to the deceased. Simple stay-at-home burials are becoming quite vogue.”
Quite vogue. Wow, I wanted to slip trendy Mother Jones quoting Harry in my pocket and take him home.
He continued: “Now explain me this, please. Burial places will often have rules as to what is, or is not permitted on their property that can clash with having a green burial, is that correct?”
I nodded. “Yes. Some cemeteries require concrete grave liners everywhere on their grounds, but there are others in the area just for green burials, and more all the time that have space set aside for natural burial.”
“Well, that’s what I want. I want to get back to the Earth and I want a tree planted on top me so my body will fertilize it. I want to be free and growing as part of that tree, not all balled up in some metal box inside a concrete bunker.”
“That does sound nice,” Mildred agreed.
Harry gave her a wink and told her he was hoping she’d choose to be there with them so they could spend eternity “romancing” each other under that tree.
“Oh, you!” Mildred swatted playfully at her husband and blushed with a smile that told me she was pleased to be asked.
Harry turned the conversation to what he wanted before his burial. “Before your time, young lady, the body was always kept at home,” he said.
“I love that concept,” I replied
“Is that what you want, Harry?” Mildred asked.
This worried her. “I won’t know what to do. My mother used to talk about sitting with the dead, way back when, but I’ve never done it. By the time I was old enough to remember, there was a mortician to handle all that.”
“I would be honored to take care of Harry’s body right here at home if you trust me to do that,” I said.
“So you’d come here and handle everything?” Mildred asked. I promised I would.
“Then if that’s what my Harry wants, that is what we will do,” She declared.
“That’s settled then,” said Harry, standing up. “Let’s eat my birthday pie.”
“Whatever it is, Harry does things his own way,” Mildred said. “He read a couple of weeks ago about people in Australia being buried standing up. I’m surprised he didn’t insist on that.”
“I’m going to be buried face down,” Harry said, “So people can kiss …”
“Harry!” Mildred shrieked. Her husband just laughed and cut us each a huge piece of pie.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HARRY!