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Sounds Like Hollywood

Nicky, a phone rep at Terrybear Urns & Memorials, sounds worried. “I’d like to help you, but…well, our industry is pretty competitive. We hesitate giving out that specific information. Why do you ask? Where did you get our number?”

I reassure her. It’s just little ol’ me, a San Francisco area writer, trying to track down exactly where in India my father’s cremation urn had been manufactured. I’d gotten her number after calling American Funeral Supply, which I’d called after contacting the mortuary, which is where my search began this morning.

But first I should explain that Dad’s small, vase-sized urn (apparently made in India) rests in a large, casket-sized plot. Stay with me here.

*

“Hey, I found the best deal on caskets at Costco today.” At the time–20 years ago–I couldn’t sit down to chat about caskets. I needed to get my youngest, Michelle, to speech therapy, my second youngest, Carolyn, to soccer practice, my oldest, Matt, to band practice, and my second oldest, Stephanie, to a swim meet. I needed to clone myself. Don, a busy primary care physician, wouldn’t be home for hours. And then, just as I’m gathering the troops to head out the door, I hear Dad’s voice over my answering machine. “Caskets at Costco. Can you beat that? What’ll they think of next? They’re so cheap, I may get one for me and another for your darling mother. Call me, will you? Thanks.”

A couple of years later: I’m still running kids to appointments and practices, Don’s still overworked, trying to cope with HMO medicine, trying to get home by dinner, and Dad calls again. His voice echoes over the kitchen answering machine as I’m running out the door. I listen to his message later: “Hi, Sweetheart. Hey, I think I’ll go with cremation. Cheaper than caskets. Found this beautiful urn. Maybe I’ll get a bunch of them and have my ashes divided up for all you kids. Call me.” 

*

Eventually Dad settled on cremation, but by then he’d already bought side-by-side plots for himself and Mom. After the memorial Mass last month, all of us gathered at his designated spot on the mortuary lawn. Nine adult kids with spouses, and most of the 25 grandkids. The mortuary official in a navy blue suit explained that the urn would be placed into the awaiting plot after we’d left. “Don’t forget to come and visit your loved one often,” she said, a little too sternly. “We change the flowers once a week.”

Dad’s urn, transported from the church, sat on a small table a couple of feet from the burial plot. An Astroturf blanket hid his muddy, dug-out grave. A breeze billowed up from the bluffs. I could see why Dad had chosen the spot. Manicured lawns, dotted with headstones. The Pacific ocean off in the distance. Seagulls flapping overhead. His urn, small but lovely, was smooth, nicely curved, navy blue with silver pewter rings. I couldn’t quite believe Dad’s remains were in there.

Know what ya oughta do first, Teen? Find out where my urn was made.

I’m describing it to Nicky, all the while reassuring her I have zero desire to go into the urn business. “The mortuary said Dad’s urn is called ‘Moonlight Blue’ but they didn’t know where it’d been made. They referred me to American Funeral Supply. But American Funeral Supply gave me your company’s number. Said it buys all its products from you. And when I looked on your website, it says the urns are made in India. But where in India, exactly? My Dad’s ashes are in that urn. Who created it for him?” Nicky, wanting to help, says she’ll ask the company president and have him contact me.

*

I have no context for India, other than the bleak, emotionally gripping 2008 film, Slumdog Millionaire. Dad, as a voting member of the Academy, received a screener DVD in the mail. But a few minutes in, he and Mom found it too disturbing and never finished watching it. “That’s too damn depressing,” he had said. “Know what they oughta do? They oughta make more musicals. We need entertainment.” That year, since Dad was too sick to go, Stephanie and I attended the Academy Awards. Slumdog Millionaire  won eight awards, including Best Picture. When I told Dad about that, he just shrugged his shoulders. “That’s too damn depressing. Know what they oughta do? They oughta make more musicals. We need entertainment.”

If I hadn’t been busy raising a family, I would’ve helped Dad find an urn manufactured here in the USA. I found a company online called Urns of Wood. “Family and Veteran Owned.” All handcrafted of wood. All Made in the USA. All just as affordable as my Dad’s Made in India urn.

I’m soothing myself by recalling that India emulates Hollywood, wants to be Hollywood. That Bollywood is, after all, only one letter from Hollywood. One letter from the city where Dad put copper pennies on railroad tracks, grew up, and made movies. But one letter makes all the difference, doesn’t it?   

I just received an email reply from Tom Wozniak, president of Terrybear Urns & Memorials. He explained that Terrybear has built strong partnerships in both China and India. His goal is to have “long-term, trusting, and mutually beneficial partnerships.” He personally visits the factories on a regular basis. The employees are artisans and craftsmen whose skill has been passed on from generation to generation. They are well-paid and work in “proper factory conditions.”

In talking to Mr. Wozniak by phone, he verified that Dad’s urn was made in northern India, using a technique that’s done no where else in the world. He stressed that the urn is one of a kind. That even using the term “factory” is misleading. It’s really more of a cottage industry. “It was made by hand,” Mr. Wozniak explained. “By an artisan.” I must admit, Dad’s urn was beautiful. Sleek and elegant.   

But on to the larger point: how about building a Terrybear Urns & Memorials factory–er, cottage–there at the company headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota? Bet there are talented artisans and craftspeople aplenty, eager for steady work, up to the task of creating brass cremation urns. And then no one from the company would have to take those long plane flights to China or India anymore to check up on the factory conditions. More family time. More time to watch the snow fall. It’s 8 degrees there today. Put a few logs on the fire and stay home.