People of the state fair.

NN.C community member Basset sent along this artifact of southern culture (he lives in Nashville) with a brief note: “Saw the attached flag yesterday for sale at a flea market outside Lebanon, Tennessee, about half an hour east of Nashville. Don’t know who they think might buy one.” The flag in question:


Maybe those of you in Dixie can explain this, but my Spidey sense? Tells me it’s not good.

So, welcome to September. We’re scheduled for a week of gloriousness, high pressure with steadily rising temperatures peaking at 80 or so. In other words, perfect summer weather, with the autumn equinox bearing down on us. We’re spending one day at the Michigan State Fair. The last Michigan State Fair, I should add; it’s set to fall to the budgetary ax this year. I suppose it’s possible it might be reconstituted elsewhere down the road. It was always a strange beast, having the formal nod to agrarian Michigan take place in the heart of urban Michigan, but that’s the way most state fairs are, aren’t they? A chance for the kids from the farm to see the city, and vice versa. (I’d be happy to go see them, but they lack the hotel space.)

Still, this is sort of a tragedy. The fate of the fairgrounds is uncertain, but my guess is, it’ll stand empty until it succumbs to the inevitable — scrappers, then weeds, then rot, then collapse. Anyone interested in a fishing pond shaped like the state of Michigan?

This would never happen in Ohio. At least I hope not. Times are tough there, too, but the Ohio State Fair is such an institution. So many memories there, for a Columbus kid, but my favorite was the last one I collected as an adult resident of the state and a journalist covering the fair beat, when there was a protest in the cattle judging — one loser claimed the grand champion beef steer had been altered, if not surgically then…somehow. The veterinary inspection and tox screen came back negative, and the girl collected a fat five-figure check for her winner at auction. (The lede on my story: “In the end, Thumper was no bum steer.” Come on, people, gimme some love!)

But it was a bit of distant thunder, it turned out, because a couple years later, the winners really had been cheating, a bit of business that came to light when the champion was slaughtered and stripped of its hide, and globs of silicone fell out. Oops. It’s not every day you get to cover a cheating scandal at the state fair, and I regret that I missed it. By then I’d moved on to the Indiana state fair, where my sole bit of fair-related journalism was on Chief, the “world’s largest hog.” I called around, and discovered that Chief, while enormous, was not even close to a world record, or even a national one. (That belonged to a competitor from, where else, Iowa.) I pinned the p.r. rep down with the sword of truth and got her to admit that the quote marks — yes, it was Chief, “world’s largest hog” — were there for a reason. I then declared myself “world’s greatest columnist” and later collected an award for the piece from the Hoosier State Press Association. Yes, that story is as pathetic as it sounds.

I don’t care what anyone says; I’m proud of the work I did as a state fair journalist. Even if I never did track down the Tom Thumb Donut machine. (This was before the miracle of Google, needless to say. They may be my single-most-favorite state fair food.)

Bloggage? I has some:

When we were in Ann Arbor and watched a slide show by a UM professor who was a “computational cosmologist,” Alan was struck by how organic his computer models of the universe were. Dark matter resembled orange peels, etc. Now the Brits say they’ve successfully imaged a single molecule, and guess what, it looks like a honeycomb.

For the record, I am not offended by the People of Wal-Mart site, and I look forward to seeing its answer site, People of Whole Foods. (Great idea, Brian, but Trader Joe’s isn’t upscale enough.) Someone get on it.

Another reason to despise Michael Pollan: He has put me in agreement with Charlotte Allen. Sigh.

Yikes! I’m getting my roots done in 13 minutes! Must run.

Posted at 10:49 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

65 responses to “People of the state fair.”

  1. Catherine said on September 1, 2009 at 11:02 am

    People of Whole Foods would give us a chance to deploy one of my favorite terms: Trustafarians.

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  2. LA Mary said on September 1, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Twenty some years ago Trader Joes sold a lot of close out and odd lot food, sort of the TJ Maxx of food. Plus nuts and wine. That’s it. Tons of Quaker Instant Oatmeal one week, acres of frozen orange roughy the next. And nuts and wine. The owner, Joe Coulombe, made his own radio commercials. Some German conglomerate bought it in the nineties and they started spreading out from the LA area and carrying a much wider assortment of merchandise.
    I can’t afford Whole Foods. Their ‘tude annoys me as well, so they don’t get any of my business.

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  3. Dexter said on September 1, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Bassett: Now I’ve been around the world and back, and I have seen a lot…but I hadn’t seen it all until I saw that Stars and Bars with the President superimposed onto it. Ever see the AFLAC ad with Yogi Berra explaining “…and they give you cash, which is just as good as money!”, and everybody’s mouth drops and the AFLAC duck runs out of the barbershop insanely? Well…that flag did the same thing to me.

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  4. Dexter said on September 1, 2009 at 11:33 am

    The molecule shown is approximately one million times smaller than a grain of sand.

    I love Trader Joe’s everything, except that whole wheat pasta. If you grind your own beans, TJ’s coffee is the best value in the world. It’s fantastic.
    We go to the store listed here:
    6355 Sawmill Rd
    Dublin, OH
    We only get down there about four times a year…don’t want to be too intrusive in daughter’s life!

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  5. brian stouder said on September 1, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Gotta agree with the spidey sense of our hair salon-bound Proprietress; I think the president’s visage on the stars and bars serves as a rallying emblem of what they’re against (one notes that he seems to be blood red)

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  6. basset said on September 1, 2009 at 11:48 am

    I’ll be back that way this weekend, want me to pick one up for you? 🙂

    we just got TJ’s here in Nashville, no wine though – can’t sell it in grocery stores in Tennessee.

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  7. Cathy D. said on September 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Ohio State Fair band competitions in the ’70s. Standing on the dusty track, sweltering, waiting to perform in front of a packed grandstand. Waiting again, this time in the grandstand, to hear if our school’s name was called for the nighttime finals. The sense of accomplishment and our cheers when it was. Having a free afternoon to cruise the fair and eat everything in sight. Then getting ready all over again later in the day. Sleeping all the way home.

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  8. ROgirl said on September 1, 2009 at 11:59 am

    The same German conoglom that owns TJ’s also owns Aldi, a grocery store that started in Germany. They’ve opened a lot of stores in the area over the past year or 2. Low prices, store brands, no frills, but very high quality products in my experience, including wine.

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  9. coozledad said on September 1, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    I just don’t get the South, unless I think about it as a kind of Wallachia in exile. I don’t know if Basset will back me up on this, but I get the distinct impression we’re a lot more morbid than most of the country, and there seems to be a bit more of the crazy on the level of Vlad the Impaler.

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  10. basset said on September 1, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    never been anywhere else where drivers going both ways on a divided highway pull over and stop when a funeral passes.

    crazy? who you sayin’s crazy, boy? Ah’ll put a boot in yer ass… damn lib’ruls.

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  11. coozledad said on September 1, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I have pretty vivid memories of my aunt holding me up to the open coffins at various funerals and having me give the deceased a peck on the cheek.
    This is probably why I felt cheated when Goth came into fashion about a decade too late for me.

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  12. Sue said on September 1, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Cooz, you’ve worn chicken hats made out of faded pink sweatpants. You’ve always been fashion forward and I don’t believe you didn’t have a Goth period.

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  13. moe99 said on September 1, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    C’dad, the funerals of my grandmother and great aunt in Paulding, OH featured open coffins as well. Luckily I was a bit older than you were, so no permanent damage to my psyche. But it was weird. They were them but they didn’t really look like they did when they were alive.

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  14. Connie said on September 1, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Cathy D. my kid would give the exact same description about the Indiana State Fair. All about marching band. She has no memory of long ago family trips to the Indiana State Fair and the Kentucky State Fair, which we lived midway between until she was 11. I will note that the Kentucky State Fair is the only mostly indoors and air conditioned fair to which I have ever gone. Only the rides and the beer tents were outside.

    Nancy, better to get rid of the state fair than the state library which is also about to be shut down by the governor, materials, programs, and all.

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  15. ROgirl said on September 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Giving southerners their due, the graduate thesis of the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia has surfaced. It’s called “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family.” In short: working women bad for the family, contraception for unmarried couples bad, tax credits for childcare bad, religion in schools good. Granted, it’s 20 years old, but he’s got some explaining to do.

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  16. MichaelG said on September 1, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    TJ’s was in the Bay Area at least back in the early eighties. I shopped in the East Bay and in San Rafael before I moved to Sacramento in the late Eighties. I don’t see the point without the wine. And Two Buck Chuck is still $1.98 here. I think a lot of the shoppers at my local TJ’s give off a sort of new agey, crunchy, greenish vibe. Of course the store nearest me is located in a rich area. Amazing how quickly you can get from the million dollar houses to the hood. I wonder if they even know my neighborhood exists.

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  17. MarkH said on September 1, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Connie, are you serious? In Indiana? Say it ain’t so. There would be a literal uprising in our little community if the library was threatened.

    Cooz, that funeral description is straight out of Three Faces of Eve. And we know what that did to her. I’ve been to my share of open coffin funerals, including my father’s, but always wondered how much (forced) kissing-the-corpse really went on.

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  18. Connie said on September 1, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    No no Mark, the Michigan State Library is to be closed due to Gov’s executive order.

    There have been numerous literal uprisings in Indiana’s little communities this past year in response to the Kernan-Shephard Commission’s recommendation to force all of Indiana’s public libraries to merge into 93 county libraries.

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  19. 4dbirds said on September 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Last open casket funeral I went to was my grandfather’s in 1983. I didn’t do any kissing.

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  20. Jolene said on September 1, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    ROgirl, that thesis can’t really be explained away as a youthful indiscretion, even if was 20 years ago. McDonnell was 34 years old when he wrote it.

    Are you in Virginia? If so, you know that Virginia’s statewide elections are decided in the Northern Virginia suburbs, which are more liberal (by Virginia standards) than the rest of the state. The Democrat, Creigh Deeds, was running behind McDonell. The news of this thesis, coupled with McDonnell’s conservative record, will diminish his support. Whether it will have a big enough effect to shift the current trends remains to be seen.

    It’s also worth noting that McDonnell obtained his master’s degree at Regent University, source of all those wonderful DOJ appointees in the Bush administration.

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  21. Jolene said on September 1, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Last open-coffin funeral that I went to was my dad’s, just a few months ago. I don’t think I kissed him, but I did touch his hand. It was, of course, cold and, I suppose because the hand is bony, hard–so unlike the warm, tender open-handed man that my dad was. The memory of that sensation still makes me shudder.

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  22. Danny said on September 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Wow, didn’t know there was such an aversion to open casket. It seems like I’ve been to nothing but open-casket style in my family. For me, it has always brought a sense of closure. Even in death I’ve appreciated the chance to look one final time upon the visages of my dear loved ones.

    I miss my father and grandfather greatly.

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  23. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 1, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    You might be surprised by the motivations behind the Obama/Rebel flag combo — American ahistoricism is so strong that there’s plenty of folk for whom that big blue X on a field of red is just a sign of “I’m not knuckling under to authority,” anymore than most youths who spray paint an A in a circle have any idea of what Anarchist philosophy entails. Lots of support for Obama comes from people who have hoped he would represent a break with the Washington establishment, and i wouldn’t be at all surprised if the odd juxtaposition was meant to say “President Barack, you get back to upsetting applecarts, since that’s why i voted for you.”

    There’s quite a few Stars and Stripes with Geronimo’s face superimposed in the middle at Native American pow-wows, and the irony is entirely intentional, if a wee bit weak on historical detail. The Confederate battle flag next to Mr. Obama rings some of the same changes on a slightly different set of bells.

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  24. Sue said on September 1, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Sigh… Jim Bob and The Uterus are pregnant again. It makes CNN. Pardon the disrespectful snark, but exhibitionist pregnancies disguised as accepting gifts from God and for-profit reality-tv childrearing disguised as old-fashioned debt-free living rubs me the wrong way, for some reason.

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  25. paddyo' said on September 1, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    In Catholic circles, I’ve found open casket typical, at least at the obligatory saying of the Rosary the afternoon or evening before the funeral.
    But we’ve had few funerals yet (knock on wood) in my large Catholic family. My mom died relatively young (64) of metastacized breast cancer and was somewhat emaciated when she finally passed. This was 19 years ago, and I hadn’t seen her in 3-4 months before her death. But it was still kind of a shock, because she didn’t look much like Mom. The way the undertakers had done up her hair didn’t fit, either. Almost a stranger in the coffin. And, no touching …

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  26. judybusy said on September 1, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I really don’t get the hostility towards Pollan, and buying the best food one can afford. Now, I know that’s really subjective, and I would never force anyone to buy what I think is good food. I do think the conversation has been helpful in drawing people’s attention to what we consider food, and the many consquences of the way it’s produced. We all make choices with ethical implications every day because of the global nature of our economy.

    It breaks my heart that the farmer is on food stamps. I would buy his $4/pint strawberries over the styrofoam bits at the local grocery store any day. I also buy the 3 for $5 boxes of fruit at our farmer’s market, where it’s trucked in from CA. But, nectarines don’t grow so well here.

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  27. coozledad said on September 1, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Sue at #12: If, for some reason, I wind up in an open coffin, I’ll try and get my executors to slip the chicken hat on me. Or some getup like Robert whatshisname from The Cure.

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  28. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 1, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    FYI — in liturgical faith traditions, like Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, and most Lutheran churches, there is actually a specific provision barring an open casket within the worship space. Occasionally, there is permission given for an open casket in the narthex/gathering space, but not once you enter the nave/seating area, and definitely not in the sanctuary/chancel/near-altar area in the front.

    Most Protestant churches don’t have either the canon law/church rule that forbids an open casket, nor do they have, in the large number of smaller church buildings they occupy, a space that is between the outside doors and worship area (narthex/vestibule/lobby). So more and more often, when the funeral was at the church building as opposed to in the funeral home, there was a desire to have one more chance for later arriving family to “see the departed,” and so the afternoon & evening calling hours at the funeral home would extend to the church for an hour before the service (10 to 11 am before an 11 o’clock funeral).

    Since you often just have a large open room in Protestant churches, the open casket the hour before just stayed open through the service — with the family ushered out after most left, and the “closing” of the casket done before the pallbearers are asked back in to carry the casket out to the hearse. Funeral directors hate to do the “closing” just before the service, because it is hard to clear the area as people are coming in, and seeing the body cranked down & the casket lid screwed shut is usually not seen and not handled well by those who do watch it . . . and there’s always someone who asks to see the person “one last time” before heading to the cemetery. So they lean heavily towards either closing the casket the night before, or after the service before heading to the cemetery.

    All of which has led to a general assumption by most folks that open casket is the norm, and liturgical tradition clergy often have a very hard time explaining to people why *this* church won’t let you wheel an open casket into the sanctuary when people have seen a dozen other funerals with an open casket right in front of the pulpit. It’s a tough moment to explain sacred space and canonical guidelines to a semi-de-churched family.

    Me, i do whatever the family wants; i think open during the memorial service leads people to eye nervously the waxen countenance still peering up out of the casket, but i don’t have strong personal feelings either way. My ashes will end up in Little Wood Lake, into the St. Joseph River, and out through Lake Michigan, and my wife can do whatever she wants to the corpus delicti in the mean time.

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  29. Dexter said on September 1, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    My cousins finally stopped the open casket tradition in our family, opting for closed lids for their parents. I thought maybe the open casket look was over, then another cousin left the top open for her dad. The whole generation has gone to their reward , but one uncle. One Mom’s side, just one aunt remains, age 94.
    My wife and I have opted out of caskets altogether, and we both will be reduced to ashes. I had my dog cremated in July. I much prefer it. Of course, another option is donation. A friend died two weeks ago and gave his corpse to the medical college in Toledo.

    Aldi’s was mentioned by ROgirl . It’s amazing how much cash you will save if you shop there instead of, say, Kroger. For example, their cold cereal is even much cheaper than Dollar General’s cereal.
    I don’t like their crappy meats but their bread is great, the canned stuff is the same, the cheese and milk are fine, snacks like pretzels are very cheap. Their produce is second rate, but overall, a great way to save money.

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  30. Jeff Borden said on September 1, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Anyone here old enough to remember a Bill Cosby bit from the early to mid-1960s about funerals and how as people walked by, they’d invariably say, “Doesn’t he look like himself?” Cos said most often if you laid down on a bed and kept completely still, no one would come in and say, “Doesn’t he look like himself?” Instead, they’d be screaming, “He’s dead!!”

    In the same routine, he suggested using a tape recorder when he was dead, so that he could talk to the mourners. “Hi Bob. How’re the wife and kids? Don’t I look like myself?”

    Sue, with regards to the Duggars and their soon to be 19th child, amen. There is something deeply narcissistic to keep popping out children like they do. I imagine in ten or 15 years, we’ll have some sort of reality program starring the Duggar children, the Octomom brood and the eight from Jon and Kate.

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  31. coozledad said on September 1, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I nearly forgot about this, but I was doing some minimal background research on a nearby antebellum house, and stumbled on a letter in the Southern Historical Collection that describes a game that was popular in the years prior to the war. It was called “Long Bullets”, but differed from the traditional Irish version in that it involved opposing teams, and had become more like Rugby. The object was to advance an iron ball (probably a mortar shot) along the field to the opponent’s goal. The teams might have upwards of fifty or sixty members each, there were no penalties, and people were frequently injured by the “ball” or just suffered a severe asskicking for stupidly joining in a melee. I think this was a feature of local harvest fairs in North Carolina, but was probably duplicated with regional variations all over the South. Another frequently fatal sport was hanging a live plucked goose with a greased neck from the limb of a tree. A throng of riders on horses (selected especially because they were either untrained or crazy as hell) would make for the goose and attempt to wrench its head off. The winner was usually the guy who could stand up when it was over. Then he got to bury the losers. I don’t think a whole lot has changed really. Maybe people are slightly more death-averse.

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  32. Dexter said on September 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    And the new era gets a foothold, in Vermont…

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  33. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 1, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    It’s said that, in the South, if you hear someone say “Hey, y’all, watch this,” you should step back promptly. Covering your eyes is optional if you don’t want to have to speak at the inquest.

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  34. Sue said on September 1, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I have a friend from SC who once told me about a game he and his brother played with their younger brothers when they were kids. They’d go out in the woods, and the little guys would go behind a log and take turns jumping up. The big brothers would shoot at them. I thought he was joking.

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  35. A Riley said on September 1, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I visited Galena, Ill., this spring. Galena’s claim to fame is General Grant’s home, and the old hotel on the main drag where Lincoln stayed and spoke to the crowds before his election, etc., etc. Charming main street with lovely old Civil War era buildings all now housing shops, restaurants, & other caterers to the tourist trade, including t-shirt shops. And among the t-shirts in the window, alongside the “My folks went to Galena and all they brought me was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirts and all the others you’d expect to see, was a t-shirt bearing the Stars & Bars. What? In *Galena*? Home of General Grant??

    Semioticians, talk to me.

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  36. Jolene said on September 1, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    I am totally irrational about what to do with dead bodies. Although I know it’s totally reasonable, the idea of burning the bodies of people I loved is mildly horrifying. It bothered me to leave Dad alone in a box in the ground too. Maybe I’ll feel better when Mom is with him.

    And, yes, I know this is nuts. They are dead. They can’t feel anything.

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  37. ROgirl said on September 1, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Guns, Jesus, open caskets, confederate flags. As a heathen northerner I find it all strangely foreign.

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  38. Jolene said on September 1, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Oh, and, yes, Jeff, I do remember that Cosby routine. Those early albums were great.

    Heard a funny Cosby line while watching the Kennedy coverage this past weekend. There was some discussion of growing up wealthy among MSNBC commentators, and Chris Matthews quoted Cosby saying, “The first rich kids I met were my own.”

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  39. MichaelG said on September 1, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Reminds me of Shelly Berman’s line: “My parents sent me out for a loaf of bread and when I got back they’d moved.”

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  40. Dexter said on September 1, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Jolene, your comment in #36 reminds me of the time I was discussing finances with a local funeral director at the time of my MIL’s death.
    I commented how although this would be a traditional open casket funeral, I believed in cremation.
    He then attempted to psyche me out. He told me what a horrible thing it was to burn a body to ashes, citing the life-long nightmares the loved ones experience, some of which drive them to INSANITY ! (think of the piano player in “Reefer Madness” .
    He also cited “closure” (of course a properly restored corpse must be shown in a proper casket for this to occur) and he told of how bad the sense of loss is , as without a body in the ground, the separation-grief is just unbearable for everyone. He then cited some survey which reported that something like 99.99% of cremations left bitter survivors who rued the day they chose fire.
    Well,that old boy is rotting in the ground now, and his heirs have installed a crematory, which used to be called a crematorium, if I remember rightly.
    I suspect the lectures on the evils of fire have ceased.
    Yeah, he really did talk to me of the nightmares…people waking up to visions of bodies screaming out in pain, bones jutting up out of the fire…a very graphic description…I have remembered it now these 21 years. Of course, it was all company propaganda, and we all know you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

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  41. coozledad said on September 1, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    I’ve always wanted to visit Benares. I’ll bet there are some good vegetarian restaurants.

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  42. alex said on September 1, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    At one of the creepiest funerals I’ve ever attended, the casket was open and the family was snapping pictures. First time I’ve ever seen anything like that. Then, again, it was also the first time I’d ever seen a decedent’s live-in companion ejected from a funeral by his embittered children and ex-wife. Atrocious people.

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  43. Jean S said on September 1, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Okay, am I the only one here who caught Cooz’s Wallachian reference? Valdese! I went to school with some of those people…

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  44. joodyb said on September 1, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Open casket was the custom among the Methodists; it was closed only if something terrible had befallen the corpse. The morticians in our tiny burg have perfected that little I’m-just-asleep half-smile. I wonder if loved ones ever complained (‘can’t you make him look not so mad?’) Though personally I don’t imagine my stoic Welsh grandparents grinning ad infinitum.
    My sisters and I were taken to every funeral. My brother in law tells of actually playing funeral with his cousins.

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  45. Scout said on September 1, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    The most tasteless open casket funeral I ever attended was that of a friend’s mother. The poor woman had been murdered by her boyfriend and stuffed in a dumpster. The corpse had dirt under her fingernails, bruises on her arms and face and her hair looked like what you’d expect it to after the dumpster nap. I swear I saw her damn hand twitch and it freaked me out so bad. I’m sure she was trying to grab her daughter by the collar to let her know how mad she was about going out looking like that. Poor thing. I can’t say I blame her. I’d haunt my kids if they ever did that to me.

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  46. brian stouder said on September 1, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Alex, apparently the ‘snapshots at funerals’ is an old-time Indiana thing; when one of Pam’s great aunts (or whatever) passed away, they found many many photos of dead family members in their caskets, that she’d taken over the years.

    Cooz at comment 31: your comment about ante­bel­lum houses reminded me of a footnote I read in the book “Giants” – a parallel biography of Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass.

    In the book’s account of Douglass’s early, enslaved life, his owner hired a particularly harsh slave driver; a guy who ended up making a fortune off his ability to be exceptionally cruel without “damaging the goods”. The slave driver ended up living in a grand plantation himself, on the eastern shore of Maryland, that came to be known as Mount Misery.

    And the footnote? It informs the mild reader that the current day owner of Mount Misery, on Maryland’s eastern shore, is none other than (drum roll)…Donald Rumsfeld!

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  47. joodyb said on September 1, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    wow, brian. that’s a good one. Scout, people have sued over way less.

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  48. nancy said on September 1, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Forgive me if I’ve told this story before, but the very best funeral tale I ever heard was at my friend Paul’s final exit. He died of AIDS, and near the end of his life he’d had a series of home-care nurses. The best was a merry black woman whose brother had died of AIDS a year or so earlier. She was a perfect match for Paul, and was equally at home changing bedpans and mixing cocktails. (Although I’m sure she washed her hands between tasks.)

    Anyhoo, she shows up at the funeral in a full-length black mink coat, a real stunner, and well beyond the budget of your average home health-care aide. She said her brother, a minor fashion designer, had given it to her. Years earlier he’d asked her what item of expensive clothing she’d want if she could have it, and she said, “A black mink coat. But I don’t want to shop for it. I just want someone to hand it to me.”

    So her brother takes ill, and he’s having what would end up being his last show. He shows a few outfits in the final set that feature furs as accessories, the furs loaned by a local store. So Ella is sitting in the front row at the finale, applauding, when the models all come out with her brother to take their bow. He sidles up to one, slips off her fur, balls it up and throws it at Ella from the runway. And that was her farewell present.

    What made me think of it was her story about what a troublemaker her brother was, and liked to make mischief at family funerals by encouraging the most theatrical criers, in hopes one would fall into the grave. He nearly succeeded.

    I was always told “pictures in the box” was an Appalachian thing, usually among families too poor to afford photography at any other time. The corpse was clean, dressed up and held still indefinitely — might as well call the photographer.

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  49. brian stouder said on September 1, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    OK – so I’m again risking suspension for being repetitious, but I went googling and came up with this (very typical!) NY Times article, from 2006

    an excerpt:

    In St. Michaels, you also don’t see much of the one-upping of Joneses or architectural bullying found in showier coastal resorts. The old farm families and the wealthy weekenders like the Rumsfelds and Cheneys look out over acres of lawn rolling down to the sea grass and their own private docks. But the homes are hidden down two-lane roads with cunning yellow signs on utility poles that say, menacingly and untruthfully, “No Outlet,” and then down driveways shrouded by trees and lined with thick and impenetrable hedgerows.

    The houses have names. Mr. Rumsfeld’s is Mount Misery and is just across Rolles Creek from a house called Mount Pleasant. On four acres, with four bathrooms, five bedrooms and five fireplaces, built in 1804, the Rumsfeld house is just barely visible at the end of a gravel drive.

    Thomas M. Crouch, a broker at the Coldwell Banker office in town, says one legend attributes the name to the original owner, said to have been a sad and doleful Englishman. His merrier brother then built a house, and to put him on, Mr. Crouch supposes, named it Mount Pleasant.

    But there is some historical gravity to the name, too. By 1833, Mount Misery’s owner was Edward Covey, a farmer notorious for breaking unruly slaves for other farmers. One who wouldn’t be broken was Frederick Douglass, then 16 and later the abolitionist orator. Covey assaulted him, so Douglass beat him up and escaped. Today, where the drive begins, Mount Misery seems a congenial place, with a white mailbox with newspaper delivery sleeves attached, a big American flag fluttering from a post by a split-rail fence and a tall, one-hole birdhouse of the sort made for bluebirds — although the lens in the hole suggests another function.

    (there’s a funny picture of Rumsfeld’s Inpsector Clouseau-like security birdhouse!)

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  50. joe Kobiela said on September 1, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Just a quick thought whilst talking about death. Make sure you have your donor cards filled out and let your family know you want to donate.I have the oppertunity to fly tissue harvest teams around the midwest and it is amazing what they can use from a donor. Skin, bone, tendones, ect. It always makes me feel like I am helping some one out when I do one of these flights.
    Pilot Joe

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  51. joodyb said on September 1, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    brian, i remember spouse reading me excerpts of that nyttrav sty but didn’t recall bizarre legacy part. thanks for reminding of a great little piece of digging.
    i wonder about appalachian. the picture idea was not present in my environs, and our stead treads the foothills. or so i thought. wonder if it’s not more of a dustbowl/migration/Depression thing. tho McCoys certainly begat Joads etc.

    and good job, pilot joe. thanks.

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  52. LA Mary said on September 1, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    I want to second what Joe K said. Donors save lives for some and improve the quality of life for others. One young auto accident victim I knew donated to six people.

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  53. moe99 said on September 1, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Joe–you indicate your desire to be an organ donor on your driver’s license in Washington State. I have done so for years, but luckily, have not had to fulfill it.

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  54. Joe Kobiela said on September 1, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Hope it is a long time before you do Moe.
    Pilot Joe

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  55. Dexter said on September 1, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Kudos to Pilot Joe. Joe, we organ donors want to thank you for your service, because without you fellas the missions just wouldn’t happen. I appreciate your work in doing this. In the “comments” section on my organ donor card, I wrote “use as needed for any human”.

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  56. Rana said on September 2, 2009 at 12:39 am

    Add me to the list of “whatever parts are needed” donors – I always figure that I’m going to be cremated or buried in the dirt anyway, and it would be a shame to waste something that could help someone else.

    On Michael Pollan… I was disappointed by his reaction to the Whole Foods boycott, not so much because I care all that much about Whole Foods but because it reinforces this stupid idea that organic, sustainably grown, locally sourced food is inherently expensive and elitist. We don’t have a Whole Foods here; I’m not even sure where the nearest one is, but odds are good that it’s at least a half-days’ drive away. So, like many people in the area, we shop at a variety of stores and supermarkets – the Meijer is good for organic milk, the Kroger for soups, the local co-op for bulk stuff, the natural health store for supplies, the internet for TP, the local farmer’s market for fresh vegetables, etc. When Pollan talks like Whole Foods is the only thing keeping sustainable agriculture alive, he’s reinforcing the idea that such foods are only for wealthy people in progressive urban areas, not the ordinary folks shopping at the Marsh’s and the Wal-Mart. The thing is – unless these ideas make sense economically to people in less privileged environments, they’re not going to go anywhere. For a guy who claims that he wants to overhaul our national food system, he’s going about it in a damn strange way.

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  57. basset said on September 2, 2009 at 6:56 am

    buying TP over the net? how much do you have to purchase at one time to make that worthwhile?

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  58. Connie said on September 2, 2009 at 7:35 am

    But Rana, I can’t spend my life shopping at all those different places. My local grocery chain, a couple of farmer’s markets and produce stands, and a couple of nearby places with Amish grown free range meats, that’s it for me.

    Immediate cremation for me and mine with memorial service to follow. We already own a cemetery plot in my home town, where our son (stillborn) is buried next to my mother. A new stone on his plot remembering all 3 of us is sufficient for me.

    I’ve been to two Dutch Reformed funeral visitations in recent months and they were the first open caskets I had seen in a while.

    PS, Sweet Juniper made Boing Boing.

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  59. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 2, 2009 at 8:39 am

    “Giants” is a really good read. If you like “People of Walmart,” you’ll surely love checking the various webcams and update/photostreams out of the Burning Man Festival in Nevada — — and much good stuff is findable through Laughing Squid — is a good starting point. I’m fascinated every year by the working out of the world’s most impressive experiment in intentional community-building. The art is really central to what makes this impossible thing work, as opposed to how most community efforts try to use art as an additive or exterior trim. Not sure there’s anything exportable about Burning Man, but just the fact that it happens is worth considering if you’re interested in community and art and transformation.

    Has anyone else downloaded the latest Firefox update and then spent large amounts of time watching the spinning rainbow wheel of death? Thought it was a personal problem, and then my brother-in-law tells me he noticed the same thing (we’re both MacBook users).

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  60. brian stouder said on September 2, 2009 at 9:20 am

    “Giants” is a really good read.

    I liked the insightful way the book looked at the critical importance to Douglass and Lincoln of being not just physically strong, but overwhelmingly so, in their respective lifelong (and monumentally succesful!) efforts to remake and improve themselves. Being physically imposing was agreat advantage that served both Lincoln – on the “no holts barred” frontier, and Douglass – living more or less free until he was unceremoniously plunged into a life of plantation slavery. Both men had the brains to carefully calibrate their great strength.

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  61. MichaelG said on September 2, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I’m on board with the organ donor thing as well. Not that any of mine will be worth a damn by the time I’m done with them. They’ll be like the rusty used up crap you find at the farthest corner of the pick-n-pull lot. It’s easy and doesn’t cost me anything. As long as I don’t wake up in the hotel bathtub minus a kidney.

    We’re lucky here to have a very competitive grocery market. Competitive both in price and quality. In addition to the majors like Safeway, Raley’s/Bel Air and Winco we have a bunch of fine locally owned stores of varying sizes. Excellent local meat, produce, wine and fish don’t harm the equation either. It’s a great place to eat and drink.

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  62. Dorothy said on September 2, 2009 at 10:07 am

    My nephew Cameron, who turned 14 yesterday, has vision thanks to people who lost their infants way too early and donated their corneas. Cam was born with cloudy corneas, a condition called Peters’ Anomaly. His corneas were transplanted after he was 6 months old. We’re all organ donors in my family. Here’s Cam last year, talking to my brother Dave:

    We are in the position of having to pay for and arrange Mike’s dad’s funeral (he’s still alive, but we know what’s coming.) Just in case Medicaid wants to take all of his assets, at least the funeral will be paid for ahead of time. He wants to be cremated so there will be no casket, but we’re not really sure of the sequence of events. Should we have a visitation at a funeral home? Will any church allow us to have a funeral Mass even though his dad did not belong to or attend a church? I’m starting to cull pictures of him from our photo albums for a picture board. This is an extremely sad task when the guy is still at the nursing facility, talking and making sense for the most part. We feel like we walk around with a cloud over our heads all the time these days.

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  63. mark said on September 2, 2009 at 10:27 am


    My aunt and uncle were both cremated in the last few years. My aunt went first, and the funeral home permitted a nice memorial service, with an empty “loaner” coffin in the room (closed obviously) which served to hold some flowers.

    When my uncle passed, my mother was named executor and I went with her and his son to the mortuary for final arrangements. They wanted to see him. What a shock. In a white sheet in a cardboard box. No make-up or aesthetic maintenance. I’d warn Mike that if he thinks he will want to see his father before the cremation, they don’t make things pretty or dignified unless they are getting paid- and they generally aren’t with a cremation.

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  64. Dorothy said on September 2, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for that, Mark. I doubt Mike would want to see him before cremation. Neither of us would want that picture seared into our brains for the rest of our lives. We’re visiting him lots (every weekend) in Pittsburgh so we’re seeing plenty of him now. I should say Mike is going every weekend – I go when I can get away and get our pups into the kennel. I go about every 3 weeks.

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  65. Rana said on September 2, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Connie, it’s easier than you’d think. One week we go to the Kroger, the next the Meier, and whoever drives by the farmer’s market or the co-op on the way home picks up some stuff for dinner. It’s not like we make the rounds every single trip – you’re right, that would be nuts.

    But we’re only shopping for two; a family with a couple of growing teenagers might not find it so straightforward.

    Re: TP – we usually buy a case or a half case. Yeah, it’s a lot of TP, but it’s not like it goes bad, and it’s great not having to think about it for months. Plus the cat approves of the box as a window perch.

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