Living and working in the country offers fantastic benefits. My funeral parlour is situated on 30 country acres, complete with deer statuary and antique farming equipment. The funeral home building is a remodeled goat barn surrounded by lush groves of trees where I hold outdoor funerals; couples have been married in the funeral home itself.
On beautiful sunny days I tool down the country lane in front of the funeral home. I keep my windows down and the music up loud. Sometimes I get stuck behind a combine or a rickety school bus because the parlour is on scenically busy Highway 224 and snakes along the beautiful Clackamas River. Often a car slows in front of me and I can’t see what is going on because of a long line of cars or because the sun is in my eyes. I go slowly around the turns and see that a large piece of machinery is ahead along the way. This always happens when I have to get back quickly because a family is due to meet me at the funeral home. Or I have to hurry back to type out a death certificate and get it into the mailbox before the little postal Jeep comes by. Country life runs on a clock that moves to the rhythms of random farm equipment on the road.
Every summer the “floaters” descend on my little nexus. My parlour sits a mere .2 miles from Barton Park, a recreational area where everyone from Portland, it seems, puts their inner tubes, rubber rafts, and floating coolers stocked with Pabst Blue Ribbon cans into the Clackamas River. I spend many summer days listening to the sound of sirens as first responders speed past the parlour on their way to break up a fight, deal with someone who has alcohol poisoning, or rescue a stranded flotation device no longer full of people. Sometimes these floaters clog up the works out here in the country. Our precious two-lane highway ends up jammed with cars blaring Ke$ha or Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
If I have to endure people throwing beer cans out of car windows onto our property and hearing F-bombs all summer, a little free advertising seems like fair trade. I march across the field to my very large road sign, and clean it. If floaters halt in front of my parlour and I have to endure them, they will have to put up with me in my tiny sundress, spraying and wiping. The more honking and yelling that ensue, the more I know I am getting a free bang for my non-existent buck. Having them turn their attention to my sign doesn’t cost a dime. “Y’all come on back to the country, ya hear? And while you’re at it, come pull up a chair in my parlour, and stay awhile.”
Being a country mortician is the opposite, though slightly akin, to a small-town career I once had. For a brief time I was DJ Liza James at a midsize radio station in Bellingham, Wash. I was pretty well known there. I’d be at the grocery store and feel someone standing awfully close behind me, peering over my shoulder and checking out my shopping basket. If they were lucky they caught me with something anti-fungal or with loads of gaseous vegetables. At one in the morning at Safeway I wore my lime green sweatpants and waxy yellow sweatshirt while sporting a deeply conditioned, mayonnaised head of hair. All covered in a plastic bag and smelling foul. A woman chose that moment to pull out her camera and make me pose with her mother.
Being a small town DJ has its perks. You get to march in all the town parades and attain instant celebrity status. A few years back, if I announced I was headed someplace after I finished my on-air shift, you could bet someone would show up hoping to meet me. Not that they’d recognize me if I kept my mouth shut; my golden tones were my only giveaway. Once I went to a poetry slam at the Colophon Café down in the Fairhaven section of Bellingham and some kid asked for my autograph. He said it would go right up on his wall, next to Neon Deion Sanders. I was in Prime Time!