Undertaking Elmer
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Undertaking Elmer

 Joan Hoekstra
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 Joan Hoekstra
Undertaking Elmer
by Joan Hoekstra  FollowFollow
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Joan Hoekstra, born and raised in Southern Alberta, began writing in 1985. Retiring in 1995 from a forty-four year career as Dental Technician...read more and Licensed Denturist, owning and operating Monarch Denture Clinic, she continues to write as well as take courses in Pastel Painting and Woodcarving. Her work has been produced on CBC Alberta Anthology and has been published in Room of One's Own, Contemporary Verse 2, FreeFall Magazine and Other Voices. Her work has also appeared in an anthology, Gifts of Our Fathers.
Undertaking Elmer
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ELMER, THE DECEASED, HAD BEEN DEAD FOR SOME six weeks before arriving at our funeral home. I say "our" only because my husband, a managing funeral director and embalmer and myself, chapel organist, lived upstairs above the funeral home.

Jumping head first off a railroad trestle made identification of Elmer a bit problematic. But the police, doing what they do best, did come up with his name and that of a sister, living in Arizona.

My husband contacted her, Elmer was released from the hospital morgue and arrangements proceeded per her instructions. As she was not able to attend, the sister requested that we hold a service and put Elmer on ice, figuratively speaking, until she decided where to send his remains. Elmer was dutifully sealed in a metal liner, placed in a casket and his obituary run in the papers.

The minister arrived for the service and I played the usual five minute prelude of Abide With Me. I would have stopped, but no mourners arrived. Three variations of my repertoire of hymns and still no mourners. The minister, booked for a wedding and running on a tight schedule, proceeded. So as not to embarrass the clergy, or Elmer, by having an empty chapel, my husband, two ushers, hired for the occasion, and myself sat in the pews.

Service completed, Elmer "in situ" retired to the morgue in the basement of the funeral home. There he remained as letters and phone calls failed to generate a decision from Arizona. Over time, Elmer moved from morgue, to store room, to furnace room, to stock room, moves primarily dictated by need for space.

At least once a week, dinner conversation went, "How is Elmer doing?" "Fine, he's back in the store room." Or, "Elmer heard from his sister lately?" "Not since April." To "Think Elmer will go home for Xmas?" and "Elmer says his sister is a first class bitch and has no intention of sending him home."

Months turned to a year while the Arizona sister kept reassuring us she would be authorizing shipment in the not too distant future.

The owner, on the other hand, was proceeding with remodelling, with prospects of placing the funeral home on the market. Knowing that tradesmen were not overly enthusiastic about a mortuary contract, a bit concerned about vampires, etc., we needed to find a place for Elmer during reconstruction. The five stall garage, first area renovated, had the only available space. The new grease pit, clean and cool, awaiting its intended purpose, was the ideal solution. The skittish tradesmen none the wiser, my husband and I lowered Elmer into his temporary place of interment. Elmer fit into his new lodgings snugly and the three of us relaxed.

The new owner, when informed that Elmer was still on the premises, said spare me the details so we did.

Five years passed and Elmer, the ideal house guest, never complained. Surprisingly, he entered the conversation on a regular basis. "Think we can claim him as a deduction?" always came up at tax time. Or "Did Elmer like the new hearse?" when my husband parked the new Caddy over him. Mostly it was, "Elmer says his sister is full of shit," and eventually, "Elmer thinks he should be on the payroll. Free room and board not withstanding."

The time came when my husband and I relocated. We had mixed feelings about leaving Elmer, but he didn't seem to mind, although he did ask about citizenship papers as his visitor status was somewhat debatable.

On trips back, we always enquired as to his well being and were assured Elmer was still resting in peace (or pieces) so to speak. It was some ten years before court orders were finally obtained and Elmer was re-interred at Canadian taxpayer's expense.

"Elmer says he has landed immigrant status now, a plot with a great view of the Rockies and a first class bitch for a sister."

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