Monday, March 29, 2010

Louise The Unfortunate


Many years ago I had had surgery so I was watching hours of cable TV...It was actually soon after cable TV came out in our area when I came upon a home and gardens story about antique roses...I remember the lady, Teri Tillman, saying that most antique roses are found in cemeteries. The reason? Because when people plant roses in cemeteries they never go back and dig them up! She was from Natchez, Mississippi, which is one of my favorite Deep South Towns...It is located on the Mississippi river between Vicksburg, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana..The Civil war was hard on Natchez and even harder on the people...As with any great civil war city, Natchez has a great cemetery. The City Cemetery of Natchez, Mississippi. And it is covered with roses...

I finally remembered the name of the lady who told the story about antique roses, Teri Tillman ...but, I think it was the story that she told about an anonymous grave that stuck with me the most…One grave marker sits alone in the Jewish part of this cemetery and the rose lady told us how she had grafted her favorite rose and planted it by Louise’s grave.. It is the story of Louise that tugs at my heart...Seems that Louise was a mail order bride who arrived in Natchez sometime in the mid 1800’s... no one knows for sure...Louise came from somewhere back east and when she arrived at the docks all blushed with anticipation for her new husband to be and new life, she waited and waited..No one came to claim her...She waited the next day which turned into night then a week which then turned into months..What had happened? Had her betrothed really been at the docks all along and decided that she was not what he had ordered? Had he been killed and no one knew that he was bringing a bride from back east. Heart sick and ashamed, Louise could not go home and could not let her family know that the man of her dreams had left her at the docks to be thrown to the streets to take care of herself as best as she could…

Louise worked for many years in what  the locals call "Under the Hill"...She did the best that she could..a broken woman with broken dreams... Louise took ill and died without anyone knowing a thing about her…..It is said that a wealthy Jewish businessman took pity on her and gave her a space with the rest of his family...The only thing that remains is a white marble gravestone which simply says Louise The Unfortunate..Whomever she was and whatever she did ,she touched at least one heart..

When I picked up my daughter from her school in Vicksburg, Mississippi, after a five and a half hour drive myself, we drove the one and a half hours down to Natchez just to visit Louise’s grave... I stopped at a florist and bought a small nosegay for Louise…The clerk asked if I had family buried there and I told her “no, I am just going to see Louise” to my surprise the clerk got nasty...she said “I can’t believe that with all of the beauty that is Natchez, Mississippi you come all of this way to see that whore” She was a prostitute, you know?” Of course I knew...It even made the story more dear to my heart and enticing...Allison and I took the flowers and I tried to remember what I had seen in the background scene that would help me indentify her spot…no luck, so I walked across the street to a magnificent Bed and Breakfast overlooking the Mississippi River, to my suprise, again I was met with disdain. I walked back past a car from Texas...the elderly couple had driven 15 hours from their home to Mississippi...They asked if I could help them find a grave and I told them that I, too was looking for a grave but, would help if I could..They were looking for Louise The Unfortunate! They had seen the same show that I seen and something about Louise was calling them, too...

What was it about a woman who we never knew, who died over 150 years before we were ever born? A woman who no one wanted, a woman abandoned in a strange town and even stranger world? A woman who was deemed unfortunate at the time of her death turned  out to be a very fortunate woman after all…A woman with a story, buried in one of the most beautiful places on earth overlooking the Might Mississippi River…eternaly watching the sunset of legend every day ..Who would have ever thought that Louise The Unfortunate would become a legend….? If we are really lucky in life we will have strangers touched so much by our lives that they drive hours and hours from their homes to lay flowers at our grave..One Hundred and fifty years later.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Lieu Of Flowers


When I die, I want FLOWERS! Not just an urn wreath...not just a family spray, I want an obscene amount of flowers...If someone wants to send money to a charity of choice in my name that is ok. I would hope that I had made a positive impact on enough lives that I had lots of friends who would send flowers. If they just pick flowers from their yard or from a field; I would love that just as much...Once, I had two AIDS patients who lived together and died within days of each other...Tim and Jim...They were as we say in the south, Dandies...Always into something and just plain ole trouble…But, you just had to love them..I buried them in a cookie jar thqt was donated by a local potter, in my family cemetery with a do it yourself funeral because I could not get a single preacher who would do a funeral for an AIDS patient... And in one of the most touching moments I have ever seen, a grandmother and her young grandson walked into the cemetery, with a coffee can covered in aluminum foil and filled with flowers of the field..I could imagine both of them carefully and thoughtfully taking the only vessel that they had and covering it with foil...they then walked about a mile by themselves and handpicked flowers...a coffee can full of wildflowers. Every flower picked to show Tim and Jim how much they were loved and would be missed...They said that they sang gospel hymns while picking the flowers...Can you see it in your mind? I can and I hope that you can, too.

While I was living and working in Florida, at one of the Crown Jewel of cemeteries for SCI, Woodlawn Memorial Park, I saw thousands of sprays of flowers...WOW, do they ever know how to knock out fabulous flowers! Everyone ALWAYS asks me why I like working at cemeteries? One of the best things I can say is that I love flowers and get to receive huge bouquets of them several times a day. I get to see them and smell their beautiful scents all day long...I get to see how much people are touched by the sentiment that words cannot express... I have never seen anyone weeping with pride over a piece of paper with a number on it...In Lieu of Flowers is great...I am all for donating to charity...I was Excretive Director of a 501(c)3.. I know how much donations mean, I really do but, I have never seen the thank you phone calls or the thank you notes that I have seen by a single bouquet of flowers…store bought or handpicked!

I always send flowers, not that I am that special, I just love to make people happy. I want people that I love to know how much I love them and how very much I will miss them. I have the best florist in the world, Marie’s Flowers on Albert Pike in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. All I have to do is call them up and tell them what it is for and they magically read the mind of the one I am sending flowers to and when we see the spray it is magically the sentiment that I was hoping it would be. We once had a friend who was a Cheyenne Medicine Man, Al Tallbird and his beautiful wife, Beverly... She called us to her deathbed and asked us to take care of her husband after she was gone and she wished for flowers at her funeral…She wanted everyone to know that she was loved...My sentiment exactly..I called Marie’s and told them who she was and what she was like...We picked up the spray to take to Oklahoma...IT WAS STUNNING!! Autumn flowers with pussywillow and pheasant feathers...whenever I find my box of photos I will post a picture of it….

My childhood friend, Frank Rapley’s father, David Rapley was one of the first Marines to set foot on forgiven soil in WWII…He came home from saving the world to raise a family and lead our community..He loved flowers and always sent flowers to the deceased...I found this out when I called to order flowers for Mr. Rapley... Joanne, at Marie’s Flowers, answered the phone and said that the family was just in and said that he hated In Lieu of Flowers. Joanne and I talked a long time about why people feel the need to say please send money instead of flowers and I told her that I had sat with hundreds of families while planning a service and felt that for whatever reason, people feel guilty about having people making a fuss over them. They have all of these excuses like “the flowers die” ...”it is a waste of money”...I always ask how they would feel if someone sent them flowers on their birthday? They would be thrilled!! I asked them if they had ever been to a wedding where there were not any flowers and they look at me like I am crazy. (I am but, that isn’t the point) Would you expect a bride to not have a bouquet? Don’t you want to catch it?? Of course!!! I tell them that a wedding only lasts an hour and then the marriage might only last a few years...yes, I am a little jaded…Then there is a second marriage...Would there be flowers..Absolutely!! So, why in the world would you not have as many flowers at a funeral as you would a wedding? Think about it, it is the last party and celebration that your loved one will ever attend…I feel that it should be a blow out and a true send off...

When I go to a funeral or memorial Service, I think about, Are the flowers beautiful and have the feel of the soul of the deceased? How about the scripture, will it bless the departed? Is the music foot tapping and does it make you want to sing along in joy and sorrow...can you pour your heart out, too? And I love a good eulogy...I want it to be thought provoking and mindful of the sence of the person that it is intended to honor and I want to cry and then laugh..I want to know that everyone involved had the opportunity to mourn and then honor the wishes of the loved one...and I feel that part of the mourning procces is that we , I, have the opportunity to express my feelings with flowers! If any of you don’t want a beautiful spray of flowers just let me know and I will count out the pennies and write a cold number on a small piece of paper and send it to an unknown address and let a clerk open it and put it in a pile...or I can send flowers? We always take flowers ot the cemetery after the death when we visit..Why? Why do we feel the need to keep flowers on the grave and not at the funeral?


I have given much thought to my funeral and how I can get a lot of flowers and mourners…I am going to have a raffle...for every $10.00 a person spends on Flowers They will get a raffle ticket...we will draw for something every 15 minutes..After a song of my choice...then at the very end...At the cemetery after I am inurned, there will be a drawing for a one week’s vacation anywhere in the world, I have a book to choose the resort from...I think it will work! What do you think?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Please Pause

A Poem From My Friend....

Please Pause

My love…

Please pause to give a kiss, a hug,

As you head out for the day;

Whether leaving to go to work, run errands,

Or just to play.

Please pause and tell the ones you love,

“I do love you so.”

And take the time to show it too,

So there’s no doubt that they know.

Please pause to do the little things

That only cost you your time;

Take a stroll with your mate, help your neighbor,

Watch your child at that tree he can climb.

For we know not what may lie ahead

As we travel down life’s road.

Today may be the day God say’s,

“My child, it’s your time to go.”

Please pause to give a kiss, a hug,

And strive always to be kind;

For you never know, this moment may be

The last memory you leave behind.

My love…please pause.