My grandfather was a bit of what is colloquially called a badass.
Grampa led a group of tank destroyers during the Korean War. Admittedly, I am almost totally unclear as to what exactly tank destroyers are or do, but I know it somehow involves armored fighting vehicles blowing up enemy tanks. In my head it’s a lot like a science fiction dystopian futurescape.
When Grandpa got older and began to show the early signs of Alzheimer’s, he would act out his days in the war at our family dinners using utensils. “This fork is is a UN tank. This salt shaker is the North Koreans. You see, all we were doing was retreating. This is us going down the Funchilin Pass- retreating the whole time.” By the end of his life he couldn’t even remember my name, and we heard no more about the battlefields of Pyongyang.
He died when I was a freshman in college.
A few weeks ago my mother, knowing how I love family lore, sent me Grandpa’s baby book in the mail. To my delight, nestled between the pages was a lock of his hair from 1921, when he was 3 years old. It was and elegant little lock, grown by a little boy more than 90 years ago. That same little boy had been dead now for 8 years. Yet here it was. Soft tresses in my grubby hands. Strangely powerful.
Keeping someone’s hair as a relic after they die is an excellent idea because, first and foremost, it is LEGAL. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about keeping their entire finger or heart. Yet. The Order is working on this, I assure you. Second, hair relics keep. No decay here! The Victorians were quite big on the use of hair, especially in mourning and remembrance jewelry.
My former boss at the crematory Mike, who last appeared in an essay on shaving a dead man, is supportive of this site. However, he has this request, “can we make my character more sympathetic? Less “stomping” maybe.” Since Mike was, in fact, a sometimes gruff but ultimately VERY sympathetic character, I present to you now another shaving story where he comes off better.
This is about the time I shaved the head of a dead baby.
I went into the office one afternoon to ask Mike what I could do while I waited for my current victims to cremate. His reply was, “you know actually, you could… yeah, you know what, nevermind.”
“Wait, what?” I asked.
“I was gonna say you should go shave that baby, but don’t worry, I’m not gonna make you do that.”
“No, I can do it” I said, always frantic to prove my death acceptance moxie.
She was an older infant- several months old, heavy, a fully identifiable creature of the world. Her parents wanted her hair, I can only hope to put in a locket or ring a la the Victorians. I had to cradle her little swaddled body in my arms by logistical necessity, as it was the best angle to clip and shave the tiny blond curls from her head.
When I had finished and placed the locks in an envelope I took baby in to the crematory. All of a sudden I started to cry, a rarity in this industrial work environment where plowing ahead is key. Why was this particular baby so goddamn woeful?
Maybe it was because I had just shaved her head and wrapped her in a blanket and placed her directly into the cremation flames, like an undefined sacred ritual.
Maybe it was because she was beautiful- looking like the Gerber baby in every way it is possible to look like the Gerber baby- and also be dead.
Maybe it was because her blond hair and blue eyes reminded me in some primal narcissistic way of myself, and the fact that I somehow lived not BE cremated but to cremate.
Now that I’ve told you a really maudlin story about baby corpse hair, on to something more fun! I’d like YOUR hair! Here begins a project where I collect all your hair. NOT for the massive mutant cloning hybrid experiment you’re imagining, but for something else entirely.
I do so hope you will consider donating a mere pinky sized lock of your hair to me, my friends. It is a renewable resource after all. All you need do is to send me your mailing address either to my personal email or to orderofthegooddeath(at)gmail.com. This is a mourning memory project for my dearest most wonderful friends….but major bonus points if I don’t know you or maybe only sort of nominally know you and you still agree to participate. I will mail you a self addressed stamped envelope with further instructions.
Viva la muerte!