Friday, June 25, 2010

My first

The setting was nothing like you'd expect for what is to follow. My friends and I gathered at a mutual friend house on a small island off the coast of Michigan. So close to Canada that you could smell the bacon cooking. It was a big party weekend in July. Every year there is a huge party at one of the smallest islands you can imagine that is next to the island where the house is. We call the party Jobby Nooner. It's held on Friday at noon. Thus everyone in the city takes off work to go out on the boat. We all tie our boats up to the neighboring boat so that we eventually form a few "strings" of a hundred boats or so. A virtual boat city. You can actually walk (across the boats) from one end to the other. As for the island, the only permanent structure there is a volleyball net. There is plenty of beach, sun and a few heavenly bodies to drool over. (And many more that you need not see more than once a year) Johnny Z does the DJing from his boat and keeps the crowd dancing on and off their boats. For the most part, the water is only 3 to 4 feet deep so it's easy enough to get around. The picture is an aerial of the island. The land you can see to the left, is Canada with the shipping channel between the two. So we need to stay clear for the freighters. And Customs and the Border Guard is always keeping a close eye on everything and everyone. After a full day of baking in the sun, riding my Yamaha Wavejammer from island to island, boat to boat, generally having fun, we decided to head over to the house and enjoy some tasty beverages on the deck, overlooking the bay with a view of Detroit in the distance (the best view of Detroit).

There was still a lot of traffic on the water. The sun was starting to get lower in the west. A beautiful evening to say the least. The house sits at the southern tip of the island. The island is accessible only by ferry and is very quiet because of this. So we were surprised when someone pulled into the driveway. A woman, her two daughters and a son, all climbed out of the car. We had never met any of them. But, it's a party weekend, so the more the merrier. We greeted the family and offered them something to cool them off. That's when the woman told us that she had a strange request for us. Having such a house, we have had many strangers stop by and we always try to be as cordial as possible. So we said "Sure! What do you need?"
She proceeded to tell us the story of her husband being mugged while walking home from the convenience store. Shot and killed for $5 and two 40oz. bottles of beer. Needless to say, the mood changed drastically at our little party. She went on to tell us how her husband loved our little island. He would spend his weekends out here fishing. He never owned a boat, but he loved to come out and fish off the shore or even wade out and put his line in. His time spent on our island kept him sane. Helped him deal with life and keep him centered. She went on to say that they had him cremated and wanted to spread his ashes off the coast that he loved so much. They asked if they could spread them from our dock.
With thirty or so people on our dock today, we thought that it wasn't such a good idea to have a stranger's ashes floating around where we are swimming. So we offered to take them out on our pontoon boat and let them spread him in a more apropriate place.
We then loaded up the boat with the family, myself and my good friend and we headed off to a small light that markes the shipping channel at the tip of the chain of islands. When we reached the light, a few kind words were said by each member of the family and then they dropped the plastic box containing the ashes into the water. They decided that they wanted him all in one spot instead of drifting down through the Great Lakes. A very touching send off. Then we discovered that the box floats. After several failed attempts, we finally were able to manuver the boat and catch the man and bring him back on board. We were able to find a bottle opener in a compartment on the boat and pry the lid off the box containing the man's ashes. Inside, we found the paperwork from the crematory and a plastic bag containg the ashes themself. I handed the papers to the woman and we proceeded to have round two of the surprise funeral. This time, they took turns saying their good-byes and pooring the ashes into the water. Perhaps they should have knelt down instead of standing up. You see, as each one poured Dad out, the wind blew him all over the poor guy driving the boat. Oh! that would be me. And then in honor of how he died, the son poored two 40oz. bottles of beer into the water as well.
When all was said and done, we headed back to the house. As we docked, I offered for them to stay and enjoy the island that he loved so much. They declined and climbed into thier car and drove off.
Of course everyone back at the house was curious as to what happened. After showering, I was in the process of telling them about our adventure at sea when the family came around the corner...
They had reached the ferry to find a traffic back-up that would take them over two hours to get off the island, so they decided to take me up on my hospitallity and came back to watch the sunset over the water. After a little aukwardness, they assimilated into our party and everyone had a good time.
This was all 10 years before I met my husband... the man who got me into this buisness. I guess it was fate that I ended up working in the funeral buisness.
So there you have it. My first funeral. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


JustinO'Shea said...

Hey Stew. . .love reading your blog. . .and great photos. That certainly was a unique. . and loving. .funeral. Good man!

Your narratives create a real sense of peace! Thanks.


Anonymous said...

You do have a way with words my friend!

- Jack Miller

PhotosbyErich said...

Wow, Stew. I'm sure that the way you treated these strangers meant the world to this family during their time of need. How ironic (but appropriate) that you would end up in your line of work ten years later...Once again helping those in need.

God bless,

Anonymous said...

"A sign of things to come..."

- Robyn Borowski

sophie said...

Six Feet Under...Michigan style...I'd say...
and yes...the movie makers missed out, for sure...but least they saw me....:-)

Jabacue said...

Stew, this was a fantastic story. How kind of you to accommodate the family in the manner that you did. Kudos to you.
You have a book in there you know.

Stew said...

For now I'll putz with this blog. Perhaps in the future, I'll get a little more structured with a book.
Thanks for all the encouragement.

One SAHD Dude said...

Great story. I was feeling down reading the news on the Net and stopped by to read some quality writing. When I was younger we had a boat and I vaguely remember gull/Harnsen's island area; fun summer memories.

Your story has an ironic twist for me though. The aerial photo credit is from Jason Barton who passed away a few years back. I went to high school with him and even then he was taking flying lessons. He died in a crash while acting as a flight instructor in Montana.

So there; you managed to entertain and also bring back multiple childhood memories back to me. Thanks :-)

Rich (Rachelle's husband)