My first experience with death was with a goldfish I won at a carnival as a kid. It was at the booth where you throw Ping-Pong balls at a circle of little glass bowls. Three balls for a nickel.
My first two balls ping-ponged into the next county. My last one plopped directly into a bowl with a splash of victory. I was handed a plastic bag containing my prize. I named her “Goldie” and ran home with my new finny friend.
I put Goldie into a Mason jar and placed her on the night table by my bed. When I awoke the next morning she was doing the upside down backstroke.
My heart broken, I now had to process the reality of death. I did that as we conducted a burial at sea as we gathered at the toilet.
“Mom, why did she have to die?”
“Michael, everything eventually dies. It just what happens.”
Ever pragmatic, my father bluntly added, “Save your money, kid. Nothin’ you win at a carnival is gonna last.”
Thus, I concluded that maybe life was just a carnival prize to be enjoyed for a while and then to vanish in a deathlike watery swirl into oblivion.
Yep, at that moment I thought I had death figured out. But, just to be on the safe side, I decided to avoid carnivals altogether.
After that, I didn’t think that much about death. I moved through my childhood as indestructible and lived my teenage years as an immortal. It was only after I got married that I began to contemplate the reality of a possible demise. The first year of marriage does that to you.
My new wife and I received a telephone call from a cemetery, telling us that we had won a free burial plot. To claim it, we just needed to come in and get our certificate. Plus, if we did, we’d receive a coupon for two free meals at a fancy restaurant. Geesh, nothing like an evening of interment tombs and grilled flank steak with radish and corn salad.
Evidently, that evening was not too memorable, as we quickly forgot about the plot and moved on to having a family and living happily ever after. But then, almost 50 years later, we got a reminder card about our yet unused eternal resting place.
We decided it might be time to make some plans, so we called and made an appointment. I figured that since the plot probably was the most expensive part of the bitter end, we’d rest in peace dirt-cheap. Wrong.
The first price they gave us for our eternal interment in our free burial plot was about $8,000.
That was like winning a free house, but not being able to afford to live in it because of the taxes.
For half that price, there’s a cremation burial site along their nature trail that would have a boulder with a plaque on it. Metamorphically speaking, my ashes would be resting between a rock and a hard place. My plaque would probably say,
“Sedimentary Boulder with Substratal Humanoid Ash Deposit
100 Million Years-Present”
We decided to decline the free plot and thus avoid being posthumously buried in debt.
Gee whiz, maybe a carnival goldfish burial plan might be a better way to go.
• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. He decided to have his ashes put in a pizza box and placed on the fireplace mantle. Ironically, he prefers a Tombstone pizza. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.