Archive for May, 2016

Pop Music: I Get It. Everyone Needs a Big Mac Once in a While

Monday, May 23rd, 2016
Radio, video
Boogie with a suitcase
Your livin’ in a disco
Forget about the rat race
Let’s do the milkshake, sellin’ like a hotcake
Try some buy some fee-fi-fo-fum
Talk about, pop musik
Talk about, pop musik
– M

(Oh, yes. Yep. I sure did.)

I read this article, Hit Charade, in The Atlantic this morning. (Oddly, it was written last year – not sure why it popped up today, or where I saw it.) It’s a fascinating and disturbing discussion of the songwriters behind huge pop hits. Interestingly, the majority of this crap is created, via a fairly precise money-making formulaic process, by a handful of men (who are primarily middle-aged, white, and Scandinavian.) Finally, an article that kind of sums up why my eyes involuntarily roll when I have to hear this shit.

As producer Louis Pearlman put it:

. . . the Backstreet Boys went from playing in front of Shamu’s tank at SeaWorld to selling out world tours. Millennium, released in 1999, is one of the best-selling albums in American history. Pearlman then decided to start an identical boy band, performing songs by the same songwriters. “My feeling was, where there’s McDonald’s, there’s Burger King.”

That’s it! It’s fast food. It’s not good for you. They’re feeding you Big Macs.

No one can live on Big Macs.


I have a group of neighbors (and beloved friends) that I hang out with a lot. We joke about our differing tastes in music pretty often. I am the self-proclaimed music snob. They will play a song, or the radio will be on in their car, or they’ll be discussing pop music or the Billboard awards show? (I don’t know, I muted that conversation, ladies) or mention a song (or sometimes an artist) and I will say that I don’t know that song or artist. Years ago, they were in complete disbelief that I might not know a Beyonce or Drake or Maroon 5 or Taylor Swift song, or whatever, but I think they actually get that I REALLY DO NOT KNOW THAT SONG. NEVER HEARD IT BEFORE. I REALLY DO NOT LISTEN TO THE RADIO. (Okay, occasionally NPR or 97.1 THE RIVER, but I’m not talking classic rock here.) Now, to be fair, we can usually find some middle ground in classic rock or some eighties stuff. And also, so as not to be painting them all with the same brush, some also like stuff that I consider good. (You know who you are. Get over it. I am not painting you with my sweeping brush.)

This is not at all limited to that group, either. My own children like this pop crap. Nicky Minaj, and Selena Gomez, and other “artists” that all sound the same to me. We have a rule in our car that the driver gets to pick the music. I took my son and his friend to a baseball game one time and played my music in the car and they proceeded to toss me such insults as, “Pop music rules” and “Rock and roll sucks.” (My heart broke. The saving grace is that he actually has come around on that, and while he still listens to crap, he also has a nice appreciation for the harder stuff.)

Sometimes I think, “Well, I guess this means I’m really old now.” Other times I think, “Was this how mom and dad felt when I bought that “Like a Virgin” 45, or when I turned over the Some Great Reward cassette again and again for hours on end? There is no doubt in my mind what they were thinking when they saw this album come in the house.
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I still remember. Dad did what Lisa and I refer to as “Cat Face.” It’s akin to Grumpy Cat; Cecil was the original grumpy cat. Cat Face was derived from Cecil getting the look my cat, Scully, had while riding in the car.


Super-tangential side note: I picked this album cover for its’ memorable parental shock value. Shocking at the time, but later, even more ridiculously fun teenage shock value moments of memory include the following:

  • My dad’s disgust over a Lubricated Goat CD lying in my car
  • A particularly heated discussion over dinner about whether Jesus might have masturbated, somehow precipitated by my recounting tidbits of a My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult show I had seen at Masquerade the night before.

I also used that album because it is one of those albums that I remember studying over and over, sitting in my room, looking at all the pictures while listening. It’s right up there with being a really little kid in our Alpharetta playroom, looking at the people on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, or a few years after that, sitting in a den in our NY house, playing Rumours, and looking at the cover, wishing I had an outfit like Stevie’s, and wondering what the deal was with Mick’s weird dangling balls belt thingie. [/end tangent]


By the end of The Song Machine, readers will have command of such terms of art as melodic math, comping, career record, and track-and-hook . . . One term remains evasive, however: artist. In the music industry, the performers are called artists, while the people who write the songs remain largely anonymous outside the pages of trade publications. But can a performer be said to have any artistry if, as in the case of Rihanna, her label convenes week-long “writer camps,” attended by dozens of producers and writers (but not necessarily Rihanna), to manufacture her next hit? Where is the artistry when a producer digitally stitches together a vocal track, syllable by syllable, from dozens of takes? Or modifies a bar and calls it a new song?

The reason I can’t get into radio pop shit, but which i’ve never been able to put into words, is this: Where is the artistry? (Not lost on anyone is that the magical outpouring of Prince grief from every corner of the universe was due to his artistry, right?) This article, with its discussion of templates, and magic, proven formulas, and hooks, and emulation. . . gah. It almost made my head explode.

I fully admit that this is a rambling, quickly-penned-in-20-minutes-mess-of-a-post, devoid of it’s own artistry, but this article really struck a chord with me, based on a few recent discussions about my (supposed!) music snobbery. After reading this article, though, I think I am going to stop calling myself a music snob and just start saying that I like music that doesn’t come from a template cranked out by a machine. It seems I’m into Artistry. (Watch out, y’all. I’m now totally highbrow and fancy and stuff. Also, I like lyrics with ideas. Real ideas. And poetry. And imagery is nice, too.)


Small disclaimer:

  1. Some of this pop crap IS on my running list. Particularly, I’m thinking about that Kelley Clarkson song that is mentioned in the article as a Yeah Yeah Yeahs ripoff. But running is different – I like that dissociative feel of the repetition of a beat and the rhythmic pattern of my feet pounding the pavement.
  2. I am not really judging people who listen to the radio stuff. We like what we like. I just don’t feel like there is much about pop music that feeds my soul. But I get it: Everyone needs to eat a Big Mac every once in a while. They taste good, even if it’s not worth it, because you end up in and out of the office bathroom the rest of the afternoon.
  3. There are songs that my kids latch on to, radio songs that make me cringe, but that they cannot help but love. And I get it, those songs are like candies, little gum drops fed right into their sweet little cherub mouths. And so, let it be stated, I am not above a dance party with R. to Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite”; I may have gotten down with the girl to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” And yes, she adored that GODAWFUL ABERRATION of a song by Florida Georgia Line song, “Cruise.” It has been played in my car with the windows down, and damn it, yes, I sang along. Because when your 8 year old wants you to sing it with her, damn it, you sing.
  4. I really like Ryan Adams. Like, I love him with pink and red hearts that cry and expand and fly into the air and stuff. I will not apologize.

The real point of this post? Gratitude. I’m glad there are people out there still making the authentic, true, whimsical, beautiful, and terrible sounds of the individual and the experimental collectives of people coming together and creating original things of amazement and shock, even if it means that I have to make some effort to find them. And I’m thankful that I still feel compelled to seek them out. Just put a bullet in my head when I don’t want to find them any more. I’d rather be dead than live on Big Macs.

80’s Phone Etiquette at the Palmer House

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

66861The girl and I had dinner al fresco by the garden tonight.

T: “When I get a phone, i want a pink one.”

Me: “It’s gonna be a while before you get your own phone.”

T: “How old were you when you got your own phone?”

Me: “Um, well, in my late 20s. We didn’t have cel phones until then.”

T: [slack-jawed stare]

Me: “We shared a phone. One of those ones on the wall, and then later we had them in every room, but we all shared the same line.”

T: “What’s a line?”

Me: “Well, like, I could be on the phone in my room, talking to a friend, and my pesky little sister might quietly pick hers up in her room to try and hear my conversation.”

Tiller gasps.

Me: “Or, the phone rings, and two people in the house pick up at the same time, so you could all talk on the same line, except that if your sister’s friend was calling, you just stayed quiet, and you might hear something good you could use against her later.”

Horror. Pure horror on her face.

Me: “OR, say you like a boy, and that boy actually gets the balls to call you, because let’s face it, usually he would have a friend of his, or a friend of yours, ask you if you like him. Because at that age, they are all basically scared. And if they weren’t scared, you should watch out. So, say the boy calls, but it is dinner time. First of all, your dad might pick up the phone, because you are not allowed to answer the phone during dinner. Except, when it is a boy on the other line, and they asked for you, Grandpa would say, ‘I’m sorry, but she can’t make it to the phone right now. She’s eating dinner. May I ask who’s calling? Oh, okay, JOOOHHHNNN.” (Yes, he’d say it like that. ‘We don’t like to entertain calls during dinner time. Or after 10 pm on a school night, either.'”

The look on her face. Disbelief and pure pity.
“And then you would lose your appetite, and cry and stomp away to slam the door to your room. Except you would be hungry like ten minutes later, because you exercised and played outside for like 4 hours straight, and no matter how much you eat, you are always hungry and you never get fat.”

Okay, I lie. I didn’t say that part, because we don’t really talk about body stuff.

I said, “Tiller, can you imagine how horrifying it was for Papaw Palmer to pick up the phone when a boy you like called? Or worse yet, for a dumb boy to call too late at night?”

Tiller just put her head in her hands.

“I had no idea it was that bad back then. I’m so sorry.”

Mary Etta’s Purse

Monday, May 16th, 2016

When my grandfather died, we cleaned out his house, and there was just. so. much. stuff. Stuff that felt important and that I knew I should save, and I couldn’t make a decision about at the time. I put it away in boxes, and they ended up in the basement.

The basement flooded.

Much to Todd’s chagrin, none of my boxes of genealogies, family papers, history books, and old photos were damaged. However, the whole basement had to be emptied to do the renovations required to put in new floors and paint, so all of the accumulated stuff is kind of being moved into safekeeping until the renovations are complete. (By “safekeeping” I mean mountains of boxes in our bedroom, foyer, and dining room.)

While we were moving them, Tiller immediately caught sight of one item on top of an open box of photos that belonged to my Grandma.

My great-grandmother’s purse.

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I kept it because it’s a classic, beautiful vintage purse. Score. But I had forgotten until we opened it up that I had also kept it because it was a mini-time capsule of my great grandmother’s last years. I think that when she died, her daughters probably just took her purse home, and they couldn’t bare to throw any of it out. (Must be genetic.)

Here are my Grandma Palmer (Evelyn) and her sister, Lessie, at the funeral home. I know it’s morbid and sad, but I don’t care; I like this photo.

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She was born Mary Etta Richardson (her mother was Matilda Denmark, which is partially the origin of Till’s name, but mostly we just liked the name), in Liberty County, GA in 1888. She died December 7, 1959. (Pearl Harbor day, and my sister’s birthday, too.) She married my great-grandfather, Horace Ray Butler (Rollie dodged a bullet there) and they had five children. Two of them died as babies, and the stories of their deaths are heartbreaking to hear as a mother.They were older than the three who lived and died before the others were born. The three who lived were: Lessie, my grandmother Evelyn Jean, and Clayton. (I believe he was actually William Clayton.)

 

Both of the babies are both buried at Thomas Hill Cemetery on Fort Stewart. Here is a photo of Marie’s grave and one of R.C.’s. This gets mighty confusing, because my grandmother would tell me about her mother telling her about losing the babies, and the names above are misleading. According to my grandma, Marie was not pronounced with the common pronunciation. It was “MA-ree,” rather than “Ma-REE.” And there is no french accent to it, just “Little Ma.Ree.” And when my grandmother told me about the babies dying, the boy was “Little R.C.” Not “R.O.” which is what the gravestone looks like, but I am sure that it was R.C. and i think maybe the stone was not well-engraved, because I am sure she knew what her own mother called her dead baby brother. And we never heard a word about “Meldrum.” That makes Little R.C. quite a mystery, as he seems to be named “Meldrum R. C. Butler.” Genealogy nerd me would really like to know what the R. and C. stand for – I think R. might be for “Richardson.” Who knows.

Anyways, a ton of my other Butler, Richardson, Denmark, Shuman, and other families are also buried in cemeteries at Fort Stewart. (I hope to get down there for a cemetery visit, but you have to make an appointment, i think due to the Army not wanting you to get blown up driving around the base. Heck, I could do a whole post just about the people buried on Fort Stewart.)

Whoa. That was one of my more offensive genealogy tangents. Sorry about that. So, here’s the juicy part . . .

I guess the statute of limitations is probably up now on these folks, so I can say that we have not figured out the actual truth, but it is rumored that Horace also had a relationship with another woman (possibly a Sarah or Maude, who was perhaps a Shuman) and fathered a son, but I have never been able to figure out much more about it. People just alluded to it, but never actually gave us any real dirt. (If you happen to stumble across this post and know anything about this other relationship, marriage, or illegitimate child or his descendants, we would very much like to hear from you. I know that’s a long shot.)

Horace and Mary Etta lived in Bryan County, GA, on (as I understand it) the original land grant that the Butlers received in Georgia. My grandmother was born there, near Clyde. When Fort Stewart was created, everyone in their area lost their farms. They moved to Savannah, where both died and are buried.

So, back to the purse. The satin lining is sooo silky.

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Tills and I started laying the things in the purse out on the table. Here are the things we found in my great grandmother’s purse:

This really cracked and cool looking mirror. If Mary Etta was anything like my Grandma Palmer, she would not go out of the house without lipstick.

 

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One box of tithing envelopes. I think at the end, she maybe lived with my Aunt Lessie in Garden City, outside of Savannah, because I know she didn’t always attend church out there.

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Here is one of the cards inside. I love that they are numbered and have the date on them, so that you don’t miss one single Sunday of tithing.

 

 

 

Here is her wallet:

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It contained a lot of medical receipts and newspaper clippings of bible verses and obituaries.
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I thought this one was very interesting; A tuberculosis report, from 13 years prior to her death. Negative. I’m curious if there is some reason she would have kept this in her wallet all those years. At the time of the test, she still lived on Stevenson Ave. Daddy would have been about five at that time, and also lived there.

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Another bible verse. I can’t figure out why it’s printed so oddly. Are they like bible verse flash cards? Because even upside down, I can still figure out it’s from Proverbs. . . and I missed a lot of Sunday School.

 

She had the card for the Superintendent of Sunday School. Love the old phone numbers. No (912) back then.

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One Walgreen’s prescription. I didn’t realize Walgreen’s had been around that long.

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Okay, nerd that I am, I looked up history of Walgreen’s. No wonder they were around so long; They started in Chicago and were allowed to sell “medicinal” whiskey during Prohibition. 

Also of interest: Mary Etta’s doctor was a female. Thinking that wasn’t super common back then, but made me smile.

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Quick Google search on Anne Hopkins came up with nothing, but I bet she might have been pretty interesting. And anyone know what that cream is for?

 

Here’s an obituary for some British dude, William Wright. A boyfriend, perhaps? None of the names look familiar.

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The next one is sweet: A memorial clipping, of some sort, for Mary’s husband, Horace. He died when Dad was around five. IMG_8733 IMG_8735

 

One flashy red change purse.

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A whole bunch of hair doodads.

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I particularly like the packaging for the bobby pins, which did not photograph well, but reads, ‘Gayla 10 cents.’

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Here’s a brooch, of jewels in a crown. A few of the jewels are missing.

I really like this old letter opener. Does anyone actually still use these?

And here is my absolute favorite item in the purse. One, unopened, perfectly preserved stick of Beech-Nut gum. 
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One pair of vintage bifocals.

I really love that they just folded up her glasses and stuck them in the purse. There is something so sweet and personal about holding someone’s glasses for them. It almost feels like an honor. Someone really trusts you if they hand you their glasses for safekeeping. And there is something heartbreaking about folding up someone’s glasses for the last time and putting them away.

Here I am wearing them. Rollie and Tills both had to try them on and we all did our best schoolmarm impersonations. (Ignore my hair frizz. I just ran.) See any resemblance to the photo of Mary Etta below?

Mary Etta Richardson Butler. October 1888-December 1959. Buried at Hillcrest Cemetery, Savannah, GA. (I guess this photo was probably taken at the Stevenson Ave. house. The house is long gone, I think.)

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I guess maybe I will start digging through these boxes as I put them back in the basement after the renovation. I am guessing there might be some related posts in the next few months. History nerds unite. Everyone else just stop reading for a while.

This Week in Beloved Pet Deaths: The Dog Who Knew All My Secrets

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

I wrote about putting my cat, Scully, down on Monday. And then today, I realized that my beloved dog, Quint, the one that I mentioned not even being able to write about yet, had died five years ago today. Seems like it’s time to start processing that loss. So, here’s a little bit of what he was like, my buddy, my very best friend ever.

He was a lover of the lake and babies.

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A kid kisser.

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Kids get a lot food on them, though. (Yes, I think that’s Tiller’s hair when she gave herself the Bowie haircut.)

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He loved riding on the boat.

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And curling up next to someone on the couch.

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Or on the floor when they were sick and watching cartoons.

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He let the kids dress him up and play with him, with no complaints.

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And boy did he love going with us to the beach.

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It seemed like he always wanted to be where the pack was, following me or the kids around.

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He knew where the kids were is where I was.

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And he loved, loved, loved going for rides with me in the car. He was totally my co-pilot.

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And my foot warmer.

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And my best friend.

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The one to whom I whispered all my secrets, even the ones I was scared to say out loud, and who loved me anyway, and never told a soul.

Dead, Towel-Wrapped Cat, With a Daisy on Top

Monday, May 9th, 2016
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We had to say goodbye to Scully today. I’m not a cat person, but she was all my sister and I could have in our little apartment back in 1998. I had her before I had Todd, or a house, or kids. She outlived a second cat and a dog. She was a sweet girl, and her gray and white markings made Lisa and I think it looked like she was wearing a beret cocked over one eye. When she was younger, she could be bad. When Todd and I were dating, I brought him a snow globe from Alaska. He set it on an end table, and Scully walked over and swept it off the table and it shattered. Numerous houseguests and my very own mother were on the receiving end of a middle-of-the-night glass of water dumped on their head, courtesy of the Sculls. In her old age, she would walk around aimlessly, and meow at us until we would shake up the food in her bowl. I guess in her senile state, she thought it was empty. These are small complaints. She was a good cat.
Last photo of me and my girl. I'm going to miss her climbing up in my lap while I work, and sneezing on my keyboard.

Last photo of me and my girl. I’m going to miss her climbing up in my lap while I work, and sneezing on my keyboard.

 
In the end, she started going downhill pretty quickly, but she was never in pain, and I think we timed things right. It wasn’t the horrific emergency I experienced with Quint. (Total PTSD after that experience, and you will notice I have still not ever written in detail about it – it breaks my heart to think about him or look at photos of him.) I got to make the decision on my own time, and I held her while she quietly went to sleep in my arms with her head on my chest. We should all be so lucky. They wrapped her body up in a towel and laid a daisy on top and handed her to me, along with a sweet clay imprint of her paw. I was surprised I cried. I thought I was ready to say goodbye. I saw my neighbor, Paula, in the waiting room on the way out, and I could barely even speak. I was just a crying crazy woman, carrying around a dead cat in a towel with a daisy on top. 
Afterwards was a little weird. I got home and carried in a dead cat wrapped in a towel, and then realized I couldn’t bury her until the kids got home. So, then I couldn’t figure out where to put her down, because our house is so packed full of the stuff that used to be in our basement until the toilet backed up and we had to tear everything out. I decided against the bedroom because ew, dead cat in my bed. Decided against the kitchen counter or the kitchen table because ew, dead cat where I prepare and eat food. Didn’t want to leave her on the floor because Brody was WAY interested in dead cat smell. It would be my luck he would eat her.
Aside: This whole part reminded me of my grandma Palmer’s chihuahua, Princess, dying while they were in Savannah. Grandma just put her on ice in an Igloo cooler until they could get back home to bury her. What kind of crazy person drives around all weekend in a pickup truck with a dead chihuahua in a cooler?) In the end, I set her on bench by the kitchen table, with the daisy on top, until the kids came home. When Todd came in, I yelled, “Watch out, dead cat!” (He knew she was gone already; I’m not heartless.)

 

When Tiller got home, I went out to meet her and bring her inside and break the news gently, but old Eagle Eye Johnson saw the cat carrier in the carport in two seconds flat.
“What’s that?” said Tiller.
“Cat carrier.”
“What’s it for?”
“I had to take Scully to the vet to put her to sleep. She got really sick this morning.”
“Aww.”
“You wanna go inside? I brought her home and we will bury her when R. gets home.”
“Okay.”
“What’s that?” she said, pointing to the towel-wrapped cat on the bench in our kitchen.
“That’s Scully wrapped in a towel. You can see her before we bury her if you want, but you know her soul went to Heaven. You don’t have to look at it. It’s just a body.”
“Okay.”
“You want a snack?”
“Okay.”
A few seconds later, she said quietly, “This isn’t as sad as Quint.”
“No, baby, I don’t think it is. She was old. She lived a good life. She died peacefully.”
So, Tiller ate a snack, but not in the kitchen with the dead cat, and then we realized that if we were not going to wake up with a dead cat in the kitchen tomorrow, we needed to dig a hole and throw a cat funeral before 5 pm, because after that, we have karate and swim practice. I started digging a hole, and when R. came home, Todd told him and he came out and he was much quieter about it than Tiller was. I texted my commune sister wife, and invited her girls up to attend, because they loved Scully too.
Todd came out to help me dig the hole deep enough. (I am now interested in how people buried their dead in all this red clay. It wore me out digging a hole for a 6 pound cat.) We went inside to get the kids, and R. wanted to carry her body out. Out of all of it, watching my boy delicately carrying our sweet dead cat across the yard, her body wrapped in a towel with a daisy on top, got to me the most. Todd held her while the kids and the twins all went around the yard and picked flowers (yellow iris, red roses, and orange/yellow tickseed – I picked my favorite, hydrangeas). Then we asked if they wanted to see her one last time, so we unwrapped the towel and everyone looked at her, and talked about how it looked kind of like she was sleeping, but different, and she was still soft, but not warm.
Again, I said, “It’s just a body. Her soul is in heaven.” We wrapped her back up; Todd laid her in the hole. I picked up a handful of dirt and threw it in. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” I said. “You can put some in, too,” I told the kids. Tiller said, “Do we have to say that?” “No, sweetie, you don’t have to say anything at all if you don’t want to. Or you can say whatever you want about her.” Each of them took a handful of dirt in turn, and tossed it in. No one said anything. “Rest in peace, Scully,” I said. “I loved you. You were a good cat.”

 

Todd shoveled the dirt over her and tamped it down, but just a little.  Then we each took turns laying our flowers on top of Scully’s grave, and then I held Rollie, then Tiller. And then sweet Leah said, “Can we have hugs, too?” I teared up, and I hugged Leah and Syd both. And then we all went inside or back home.

 

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Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully 1998 (?) – May 9, 2016. That’s Eddie Rabbit, watching over Scully from behind the azalea.

 

In the end, Scully lived 18 (I think) healthy, comfortable, well-loved years. She spent much of them sitting inside boxes and in sunlight streaming through windows. She left this world in the arms of a loved one as the breath peacefully left her body.

 

Rest in peace, Sweet Girl.