Listener Essay - Moving Over

Nov 2, 2017

Moving Over

Today was my mother Teresa’s wake. As I drifted out of sleep that morning, the telephone rang, beginning one of the weirdest phone calls of my life.

“Hello Deborah?” It was Phil Bocketti from the funeral home. “We have an issue. It’s not your problem, and it’s not mine, but we have to get a decision anyway.”

Under the collective name of Kennedy-Smith, our family owned a six-grave plot at Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in Troy. My grandparents were buried alongside one another; the other graves were for their two daughters and their respective spouses. The cemetery caretaker, upon reviewing the records, found Aunt Josie, who never married, was buried right next to Dad.

Phil continued: “The caretaker wants to know what he should do. If we bury your mother like it is now, she won’t be next to your father. If we move your Aunt Josie, we may have to dig more graves. What do you think?”

“Phil, they’re all dead, right? Who cares?”

Even as I said that, a tiny voice in the back of my head—which often saves me from walking into disaster—insisted some people might think this placement issue was important.

“But let me ask my sisters, just in case. I’ll get back to you.”

“Okay Deb, let me know.”

Hanging up, I stared at the phone, then out the window. It’s 8am. What in hell just happened?

I gave Phil’s number to my youngest sister, who wondered how they had to dig more graves in a six-grave plot? Joanna contacted our middle sister Kathy in Vermont and then me. She reported Kathy laughed and said: “That sounds just like Josie.” Yeah, it did.

My mother Teresa was the youngest child. Josephine followed family history and sometimes saved remarkable objects. But in fairness Josie was “flaky.”

Josie lived in the upstairs apartment of our home, often coming down to visit Mom and her three nieces. Boundaries weren’t her thing, so if Josie wanted to see what you’d stashed in the box on your dresser, she’d go in and look. No asking permission or giving you any notice. Mom and Josie often got “into it” squabbling over some odd thing that angered one or both before Josie huffed back upstairs. In any situation, Josie had to be told exactly where to stand or she’d be in the wrong place. Now she was in grave 4, right next to Dad.

My two sisters decided mom’s body should lie next to her husband’s. At the cemetery after the funeral Mass, a big industrial digger was tucked among the trees by the lane with our family plot. Over the years grave sizes gradually increased, so when Josie was moved they put her coffin within lots 5 and 6—eliminating what to do with an unused grave, and the equally weird phone call bound to come with it.

There are photos left behind of them both. One of a small, bonneted baby in a pram with a cute older sister. Two children posing in 1930’s party clothes, the younger one winking devilishly at the camera. A black-and-white of delighted kids with a pony—my mother Teresa in the saddle, Josephine alongside. Or Josie standing next to Mom, who holds her black pet chicken, Trudy. A snapshot of them on the beach in Atlantic City. The same women in 1954 when color photography appeared: Mom in a white wedding dress, Josie in maid-of-honor blue. Teresa and Josie, dressed in a mother-of-the bride-gown or a fancy dress, in colors matching each kid’s wedding. Despite the squabbling, they always seemed to be together.

Now in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, there’s my grandparents, Edward and Teresa Kennedy. Then the grave of my dad, Jim Smith and his wife Teresa. And alongside Mom is forever her sister Josephine Kennedy. Just like always.