Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grandpa tried to Drag me to Hell

The notorious grave-stompers of Klickitat County!

My cousin Karen is the other black sheep of the family. She's 50-something, has never been married, and travels the world over and over. Despite this, she still lives in the little farming town of Trout Lake, Washington, where our ancestors settled.

While I was up there at a family reunion, I went to her house one night and she zipped me up into this elaborate mermaid outfit she had recently created for a costume party. She then dressed herself up into a full birka that she'd picked up in Dubai. "Let's go visit your grandparents!" she said, grabbing a bottle of Absinthe she'd bought for me in Germany.

My grandparents lie on the other side of the valley, up a dark dirt road, surrounded by fir trees. The cemetery is pioneer-gothic. In the middle of the night, with the full moon, there is no creepier place to be. We stood on my grandparents grave, the Mermaid and the Muslim, a flashlight trained on their headstone.

As we swigged Absinthe (not an easy achievement in a birka, Karen decided) we reminisced about the people beneath us. We've done this before. We like to honor my grandparents in a way that also honors the way we are: My grandpa was a particularly tough man; dynamic, and dogmatic. He loved us, the black sheep, and we loved him even though if he could see us now, he'd roll over in his grave. Holy shit! Maybe he did!!

-Kerplunk-! The ground beneath me opened and swallowed my foot! I fell into grandpa's grave. Deep. I fell all the way up to my lateral fin!

I screamed. Karen screamed, too, and we hauled ass out of the cemetery. Before we peeled out, I made sure to shine the flashlight to where my foot had sunk just to be sure I was not making this up. Yes, there was a gaping hole, billowing with dust and spindly roots like skeletal hands.

At the reunion the next day, I went around telling everyone. "Grandpa tried to drag me to hell!!!" It was hysterical. What a story! But my relatives didn't think it so funny. Hell is nothing to joke about! Grandpa's been dead five years, and most haven't even been to the grave since then, but nonetheless they were not amused.

My aunt Donna (she is usually fantastic) went to check on the site that evening. The next day she looked at me somber and colorless, the same way one should remember the dead. She said that the earth above my grandfather's grave was sunken. The whole area, she said, was sunken in the shape of a large rectangle. As if the coffin had collapsed.

It could have. Grandpa did insist he be buried in a cheap pine box. Or she could be exaggerating, and it was only a gopher hole. Either way, Aunt Donna regarded me with abject pity. I know that look. She looked at me like I wasn't going to survive the rapture.

Slowly, she shook her head and said, "Jesse, you'd better pray for forgiveness." This is where I get confused. For what must I pray forgiveness? Precious Lord Jesus, please forgive me for the settling of the earth.

Cousin Karen got a furious phone call. How could she let this happen? Among other entreaties, cousin Karen was forced to promise she would never again go with Jesse to the cemetery at night. "Defiling a a felony!"

What do they think we were doing up there? Thankfully the law has finally caught up with us. The notorious grave-stompers. Wanted in 12 states!

If the coffin were going to collapse, it would have collapsed even if we were there in suits, reciting the beatitudes, at high noon. If it did collapse, which I'm not convinced it did, the thing would have collapsed the next time aunt Donna went up to weed it, or perhaps under-hoof of the herd of elk that often pass through.

Had it been anyone else up there getting pulled under, I can imagine the cries of "poor thing!" What this has to do with is our manner of remembrance. It's not normal. It's disrespectful, and maybe -just maybe- tsunamis are god's way of smiting society's wickedness. but because it was us, dressed up, the family will have to feed the black sheep from their bountiful harvest of guilt.

Instead of asking us to fix the grave, or including me in their efforts, an army of aunts and uncles and cousins has been organized to go up to the cemetery and "make things right". I'm not sure if this means adding dirt to the grave, exhuming flattened grandpa, or what, but I'm really glad I could facilitate this coming together of (my?) family.

As to "making things right", they could've done that in the first place. As far as I'm concerned, the family who plopped grandpa into that hillbilly cemetery should be paying my therapy bills! Security measures, such as a standard encasement, would surely protect innocent mermaids from being sucked to hell!


The Blackout Blog said...

The next day she looked at me somber and colorless, the same way one should remember the dead.

I cannot deal with your sarcasm, Jesse! I wonder if your family prays for you or if they've damned you to hell in their minds already. It's so interesting to hear about your interactions with your fam.

carmel said...

you are too funny, jesse...muslims and mermaids will be welcome to stomp on my grave anytime! what a great way to be celebrated and remembered!

carmel said...

oh wait.
i'm not dead yet...

Anonymous said...


That story sounds like an episode I saw of "The Twilight Zone". I didn't know your grandfather; however, I'm quite certain he would have been delighted and flattered that you and your cousin would take the time to visit and think of him. Get home safe!

Your friend, Jimmy

Anonymous said...

say 40 something instead of 50 something, my dear!
Your grandpa and grandma knew we loved them dearly and always will.
too bad we don't conform like the rest of the fam.
cousin karen

Overboard said...

Hi Jesse,
I have been blessed to meet your cousin, Karen, here in Guatemala, where I live at Volcano Base Camp. Karen has become probably my best friend in the world, she reminds me so much of a very wonderful friend I had until she died tragically recently. Karen and I are here right now, she told me so much about you, how we would get on real well, and it was not until she showed me your blog, that I realised how cool you are, as cool as your cousin. I am also a Black Sheep, have traveled the world, am pretty cool and funky, and well, wow, I am so lucky to have met your cousin, Karen, and to also be able to read your stories, cos you write well, so very well, you have cracked me up. We are currently enjoying a few cocktails before going out on the beautiful lake town of San Pedro. Mucho gusto.

Jesse Archer said...

Hello there so fantastic to hear from you. Have an amazing time with my favourite cousin!! Lots of love xxx

Jesse Archer said...

Como te llames?