Columns 2014

Possibly the most bizarre Christmas present ever!

It’s Christmas so it’s only appropriate to write something uplifting and joyful in keeping with the spirit of the season. But instead of doing that, I’m going to tell you about the strangest Christmas present ever given in my family, and I’m betting yours too.

Many years ago, my mother was desperately casting about for appropriate gifts to give to her three children. At the time, we were all either single or between marriages. Being Italian, she was sure this meant we would die alone and be buried in a pauper’s grave.  This may seem to be an overreaction for those of you who do not understand a certain type of Italian psyche. But in my mother’s world, if the phone rang between 10 PM and 8 AM, you immediately pulled out the box with the black crepe and started hanging it around the doorways because it was bound to be bad news. And if your kids weren’t married, they surely faced a life of loneliness and despair.

On this particular Christmas morning, as we sat in our homes opening the envelope that had come from our mother, my siblings and I had limited expectations about what they could possibly contain.  Mom sometimes hit the nail on the head. But sometimes she could be way far off, like when she sent me a blouse two sizes smaller than I’d asked for and included a note that said it looked so big she knew it would fit me. It didn’t.

This particular year she surpassed even herself. Upon opening the envelopes, we found that we were now the proud possessors of burial plots at Holy Cross Cemetery in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Yep, mom had given us each a gravesite for Christmas. Ho. Ho. Ho. And happy holidays to you too!

Her family had a plot in this cemetery and each aunt or uncle that died was placed there, eventually with their mate. The family name, Zeccardi, was writ large on each tombstone and the married names added in much smaller letters. Mom had apparently found out that the grave sites around the family plot were going like hot cakes and this worried her. Clearly if my sister, brother and I persisted in our unmarried state, we would need someone to take us in when we died. So in her own fairly bizarre way, she was looking out for us in death as she did in life. At least, that’s what we told ourselves in between the hysterical laughter on the phone as my siblings and I discussed the gifts.

After mom died, we all agreed we didn’t want to be buried in these plots since we planned on cremation. The decision was made that I should go back to the cemetery office and return the grave plots. I don’t know how I got voted into that job. I think my siblings felt I’d lived in Alaska long enough that nothing would faze me, not even a cemetery’s return policy.

So I dutifully went to the cemetery and told the nice lady behind the counter that I needed to return three unused plots. She went and found a gentleman who explained to me in a very kind but very firm way that they did not allow speculating in grave sites. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He then explained that I would only get back as much money as my mother had paid for the plots and not what they might be worth at that moment in time. I found myself staring at him in awed disbelief that there could possibly be people in this world who bought graves on speculation in the hope that the price would rise and they could make a killing selling them. (Pun a happy coincidence.)

Mom is long gone now but while she was alive, none of us were gutsy enough to challenge her choice of Christmas presents. I find it interesting that the two presents I remember the most from her are the gravesite and the extremely ill fitting blouse. A therapist would have a great time with that.

May your memories of gifts and giving come with the same laughter and joy my family shares when discussing the Christmas of the grave plots. Happy holidays… and I say that with all sincerity, not just to annoy the viewers of Fox News.