Free Burials! Eulogies Extra

Lee Foote
8 min readMar 1


Next month we are going to bury my mother . . . dead you know. She actually died two years ago but she had given her body to science to be a cadaver, or as she put it “I plan to teach at the medical school for a few years after I die”. The ashes are due return shortly.

I have no doubt that they enjoyed an interesting specimen — a 93 year old with the face of a 60-year old as a result of a metric ton of Pond’s cold cream, a smell I can invoke to this day as her white-coated face descended to kiss us all goodnight like some maternal ghost. She had a liver with Jack Danielian muscles from 30 years of wrangling ice cubes and crystal, and winning. Somewhere deep inside her I hope the scalpels found her single powerhouse ovary that produced six boys and one daughter. They may also have found a metallic coating around her hand as she ruled our roost with an iron fist; there is a reason her nickname was the Prussian Monarch, or PM for short. The med students would need delicate ligatures to locate and understand a heart as loving, tender and bruised as hers was.

Part of the reason for the box of ashes we are now trying to liberate from the Med School is that my mother found a way to get buried for free. She arranged her own funeral at no cost to her or our family. We could have afforded it easily but something in her bones remembered childhood hardships, the great depression, droughts on her father’s farm, only having one pair of shoes, and the pinched times of raising three, four, oops -there’s another one -five , oh seven children on a single salary. Like her habits of elevating leftovers to art forms, washing and re-folding used aluminum foil, cooking in the same copper-bottomed pots for 65 years or a 20-year obsession with green stamps and coupons, this funeral deal was the ultimate coupon — a free burial.

She also liked the idea that living with pulmonary fibrosis for so long and so well might show some curious med student something that could make another’s tube-dragging life a little easier. Some speculated the bourbon was a curative antidote. It is unclear if her 25 years of menthol cigarettes were inculpated or not but her favorite scapegoat was the crop dusters outside her teenage era windows misting her with DDT and methyl parathion along with the adjacent cotton fields. She didn’t bear a grudge, just a curiosity of cause and effect.

The PM’s cremated remains may be the final stop to a very DaVinci like code from her own childrens’ names:

Evelyn Eve of her life daughter

Messenger Ashes are indeed a mess

Voelker Voelker, her discarded maiden name

William Lawyer son who actually did her will

August An august occasion

Robert A good life robbed

Ashbridge And we are back to ashes

She grew up in a northeast Louisiana house set up on stilts to accommodate the flooding of the Mississippi River. She died in a central Louisiana home set up on stilts on the edge of Bayou Macon to accommodate bayou flooding. Seeing the water rise and float away all their firewood didn’t seem to bother her as much as did the long dry periods when row crops failed to get out of the ground. A farmer’s daughter to the end. Those bayous may have held some contrast for her. The definition of a bayou is “A low-gradient waterway capable of flowing either direction depending on weather conditions”. No wishy washy life attitude for mom though. She was the picture of executive function and decisiveness. My father occasionally whispered asides to us “Often wrong but never in doubt” and “In arguments I always get the last words . . . Yes maam”. He then proceeded to do things her way until a monolithic body of evidence induced her to re-route her efforts. It was far the easier way for all of us.

Sometimes she got ahead of herself, a trait I adopted, thus, nobody said anything when she discovered in my suitcase the four pre-written and stamped post cards to be mailed back to her from my week-long scout campout– “Having a great time and the lake swimming and canoeing are my favorite parts”. Thankfully, that turned out to be true so through sheer luck I was more prescient than liar. In turn, because I was the 5th child, she knew some tricks and prophylactically ironed reinforcing patches on the knees of my new blue jeans. How did she know? She also liked to say “Every 5th child born in this world is Chinese — I think I will name this one ‘Lee’. “

My brothers all ask “Did you ever see Mother run?” and as I wracked my brain, I do recall her hustling, I think it was a run, when, like a well-shot fox squirrel, I fell out of the front yard oak tree. I landed flat on my back knocking both the wind and what little sense I had out of myself. Our parents liked for us to practice managing risks and learn from our mistakes, thus, they had a general rule “Complete freedom short of instantaneous death”. In this instance, because I couldn’t breathe or move for 10 seconds, she presumed I had opted for the latter. This prompted her to drop her cigarette and actually run across the life-savingly soft Saint Augustine grass of the front yard just in time to greet my gasps and tears spurting straight upward. It was her usual hug and “Oh honey, I know that hurt” that healed the possible concussion and broken back. That was all I needed. She should not have let me stand up but that is what she did, probably to reassure herself no hospitalization was required. I was back up the tree in 10 minutes.

The other truly pre-emptive thing I did was on her 90th birthday gift. Just to get ahead of the inevitable, I wrote a pre- obituary for her. It was partly tongue in cheek but must have hit close to the bone. She read it snorted a few muffled nervous chuckles then stood up to cook supper without a single comment. Probably should not have shared that. Here it is though:

RIP — Antonia V Foote, 3 September 1924 — Whenever!

Antonia Voelker was born in a hurry on 3 September 1924. In keeping with her decisive parsimonious worldview, she decided to forego a middle name and shorten the ponderous “Antonia” to Toni for expediency. Her infanthood on the Olive Dale home in Lake Providence was carried out at a molasses-slow pace.

Toni’s college years at Mary Baldwin were backstopped by the war years and deep conspiracy with Jane Anne Foote who had been trained by her mother (Jennette Foote) in MMDAMM (Mum Mum’s Dark Arts of Machiavellian Matchmaking) and over the course of Toni and Jane Ann’s years together at college, they broke a few hearts and learned their chops. Finally though, Jane Ann dropped the inter-relational keystone into place by arranging a date for Toni and her older brother Lieutenant George M. Foote, US Marine Corps, 5th Battle Division. It is clear that marriage is a female-choice institution and this choice had two females tag teaming poor George. Both Toni and George figured he would be killed in the next round of fighting in the South Pacific, or possibly by Mrs. Evelyn so their relationship could flourish without any real risk of permanence. Things didn’t quite work out that way though. Before he could be shipped back in a coffin, Armistice Day arrived and the now Captain Foote was suddenly alive, solvent, GI bill fodder and in the market for a wife. After a protracted 6-week courtship, tied the knot, or rather, tied him in knots. She changed from Toni Voelker to Toni Foote (a two letter savings in name length).

There was a honeymoon, some schoolwork to get his law degree finished, a practice to set up, a lumber mill to run, a house to build, a mother and brother to support, but that was all subservient to Toni’s agenda which ran a little deeper and she began a rapid-fire procreative streak that would make a rabbit blush. A daughter and three sons in bone-scavenging sequence then a four-year pause to catch her breath before another trio of boys. With one hyper ovary she is credited with increasing the testosterone titer at Bolton High School by 30%.

She lived through a couple of George’s successful election campaigns, and changed a metric crap-ton of diapers. She also stuffed 75 cubic meters of chilliwafflesredbeansandriceturkeysoupaspicsaladchickenalakingjellocollardgreensscrambledeggsbacongritsbanannas down the squawking maws of any mouth that appeared at the table and would put a napkin in its lap. Jack Daniels stock rose in value. A whole lot of childhood things happened in those blurred years but this is not about that. Slowly the litter began to disperse to various venues of schools, colleges, jobs, marriages, households, travels abroad. Jobs were found, motorcycles were bought, girls courted, children spawned and Norman Rockwell smiled up from the dirt. Still, things needed checking. Parental quality assurance.

Not wanting to be a precursor to the helicopter parent generation, he senior Footes took a different tack toward steering their children’s lives by just peering in. Knowing that objections to excessive fuel use would eventually be a problem, she and the newly retired Judge Foote embarked on the 20-year quest to give Al Gore an ulcer. They drove around and around the country in a series of motorhomes that sucked gas like a starving buffalo calf as they made sure every offspring was settled and living right. They liked to claim an independent, non-interference philosophy to visiting but the simple hosting of the mothership motorhome meant a 40’ black umbilicus would snake into the home and cause brownouts around the neighborhood as well as make local electric company stock leap 4 points. Independent — pshaw!

A new era of grandchildren populated the family tree and all limbs have now borne fruit; in fact, one particular limb is threatening to break as great grandchildren are now popping forth. A geneticist would say the gene flow has been successful though (s)he might wonder where this little strain of ape came from wedged between Ross and Hale even though we know it was Lake Providence.

The Golden Years involved many reunions, visits, and some final lessons from the 93-year old much-loved Judge (such as never mow the lawn) which led to his very timely and graceful departure. Toni tried to follow him but was dragged back by family. There is some conjecture that St. Peter wasn’t quite ready for her. He wanted a few years to get his gate repainted, cupboard in order (do you have ANY IDEA how hard it is to grow collard greens on clouds?) and frankly, was a little worried about the chain of command for his job if he had to answer to both God and Toni. Hence, they let her in provisionally and high level negotiations with Lucifer are presently underway as a fallback. There are legitimate structural concerns that Hades may not be able to contain the heat she could generate.

It is only fitting that in the rapid-fire world of Toni Foote that we adopt a mantra of “Ready! Fire! Aim!” when it comes to eulogies so this needed to be written NOW! Miss her? We don’t miss her one little bit because she is right here with us, eating steel and spitting nails, slinging bourbon and hiding bon bons, wringing hands instead of necks, and loving her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and even the occasional little monkey that sneaks into the fold.

Rest in Peace (but NOT ON THAT GOOD DUVET! It is for COMPANY!) Antonia V. Foote



Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.