JAIMIE VERNON – CEMETERY COP: SNEAK PEEK
Here are a few more snippets from the upcoming ‘True Tales of a Cemetery Cop’ book. It will be released as a paperback and eBook on October 3. You can read the first four chapters here for free:
NONA & THE SANDBOX
Most of the maintenance buildings featured a dumpster for waste, an area to park and store vehicles, and a host of materials required for maintaining graves and gardens. There were designated individual storage units of gravel, sand, compost, topsoil, sod and even trays of pre-potted flowers. These materials aren’t cheap and are kept inside the maintenance yard behind a locked gate to prevent poachers when staff isn’t on site.
It was my job to secure those gates immediately after the ground crews left for the day. On one particular day I arrived at one of the bigger maintenance yards to find a car inside the gates with a woman and child still in it.
I pulled my patrol car beside the visitor’s car and got out and tapped on the window. The driver, a younger woman, pointed behind me. There, walking toward me with a bow legged gate, was an elderly woman about 5 feet tall in a fancy black dress carrying a large yellow bucket full of something. She looked to be in her mid-to-late ‘70s with short grey hair. She was the epitome of an Italian widowed grandmother.
I approached her and said, “Ma’am, you can’t take anything from this yard.”
She looked up at me with a smile and said in a thick Italian accent, “It’s okay. I know the men here. They said I could take the sand for my husband.”
I didn’t doubt that her husband was buried somewhere in the cemetery but I didn’t believe that the maintenance crew gave her permission to take the materials. The woman in the car was fidgeting.
The old woman waved a hand and yelled at her, “Open the trunk!”
She walked passed me and over to the trunk of the car.
“Ma’am, I don’t care who you talked to you can’t take anything from here.”
“No? I no take the sand?”
I looked in the bucket and laughed, “Ma’am, that’s not sand. That’s compost.”
“Compost? What is compost?”
“It’s manure, Ma’am. Horse poop.”
She stuck her hand in the bucket, pulled out a hand full of the dark soil and sniffed it. She spit on it and threw it to the ground, then turned the bucket over, dumping the contents at my feet.
“Where is the sand?” she asked me as she pushed past and headed to the piles of gravel and sand.
“Ma’am, you can’t take the sand. It belongs to the cemetery.”
Just then the woman in the car took off with the trunk still up. She drove straight through the gates and out into the cemetery proper.
The old woman came trotting back and raised her fist and said, “You fuckink (sic) coward. Come back!”
She looked at me again and said, “Pfft. My daughter. She thinks you’re going to rape her. She’s a chicken shit!”
Without missing a beat she grabbed my arm and said, “Come show me the sand. I need sand.”
“Ma’am, you can’t take the sand!”
“No. And whose bucket is that?”
“Oh, it’s yours.”
She dropped it on the ground and walked past me out through the large gates waving her fist and yelling, I assumed, at her daughter, “Come back you stupid bitch. I’m a kick your ass. You no leave me here with this man. When you come back I’ma get him to rape you!”
I actually burst out laughing and then locked the gate behind her.
But the story doesn’t end there with this firebrand. She still had one more trick up her sleeve.
NONA & THE CHRISTMAS WREATH
The secretary at head office, Emily, always finished her shift around 4:30PM and I was asked by management to give her a ride to the farthest exit gates so she could catch transit as she lived on the other side of the city. It made her long day a bit shorter and I was happy to oblige.
It was getting colder as we moved into December and she appreciated not having to walk to transit. On one particular day when I was delivering her to her destination we got talking about her day and she was telling me it was a particularly hectic season because the cemetery gave families the option of buying wreaths to be placed on graves. You could pre-order them and pick them up at the office. Emily was in charge of dispensing the wreaths but she noticed on this day that someone had come in to get one and because she was so busy told the woman to help herself to the wreaths sitting outside the front door of the office.
Emily was walking past a window to help another customer and noticed this woman had grabbed three wreaths and ran off down the sidewalk. She asked me if I could keep my eye out for this woman who was small, and about 70-ish years old wearing a fur coat. I said I’d prowl around and see if I could spot her and/or the wreaths.
After dropping Emily at her gate I swung back around to start patrolling again. No sooner had I made it back to Section 2 then I was intercepted by a black SUV coming in the opposite direction with the driver waving at me. I pulled over and the SUV stopped immediately in front of my patrol car. A rather large, imposing woman got out and came over to talk to me. She stuck her head in my window.
“I’m lost. I’m looking for my aunt’s grave so I can place a wreath on it. I got this map from the office but I’m not sure which direction I’m facing.”
The map had been marked up and notarised by Emily with the location of the grave.
“Oh, you’re in the right area. Go back the way you came and the plot will be on you right-hand side. It’s going to be about five graves in. You’ll have to walk a bit and the grave may not have a headstone…it might be a flat foot stone.”
The woman went to say something in response and she was pulled back from the window by two little hands on each shoulder. There, standing behind this woman, was the person I had affectionately called Nona from the sand incident in the summer.
“Don’t talk to him. He’s a gonna rape you!”
The woman looked at her like she had two heads.
“What are you talking about Mama? This man’s giving us directions!”
“He doesn’t know shit. I know where my sister is buried. She is over that way,” and the old woman pointed in the completely opposite direction to the map.
I signalled to the younger woman to come back to the window as I could see the old woman stomping away yelling something in Italian as she got back in the SUV.
“Say, did your mother happen to grab three wreaths from the office this afternoon?”
“No. Just two wreaths. One for my aunt’s grave. One for my father.”
“I don’t want to accuse her of anything but can you check to see if there’s actually three?”
“Um…sure. Hold on.”
The woman bee-lined it back to the SUV and threw open a back door. I saw her reach in and pull out the wreaths. She stopped to count them and shook her head. She kept one in her hand, threw two back into the truck and slammed the door shut. She then pulled open the passenger door and began berating her mother. It was all in Italian and very heated. Then the old woman reached out. I thought it was to close the door but instead she grabbed the wreath out of her daughter’s hands and threw it behind her onto the grass. Then she shut the door and locked herself inside.
The younger woman retrieved the wreath and walked back to me.
“I am so sorry, sir. My mother is out of control. She steals things. I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s okay. We’ve actually met before. Do you have another sister perhaps? Because there was a similar incident in the summer involving her stealing sand. She was trying to sneak it out in a grey car. Fortunately, I put a stop to it.”
“Oh, my God, yes. This keeps happening. We don’t know what to do. You aren’t going to arrest her are you?”
“No. No. No. I don’t have the authority to do that. But your mother is pretty harmless. A pitbull with a big bark and a little bite, but harmless. Please just keep an eye on her. I wouldn’t want her to be banned from the cemetery.”
“This place upsets her. I don’t know why she insists on coming. She just stands at my father’s grave and yells at him. She’s never forgiven him for dying or her sister who we just lost.”
“My condolences. It can’t be easy, I’m sure. You’re a good daughter. Don’t be too hard on her. She’s clearly still grieving.”
“He died 39 years ago. She should be over it by now but we Italians are stubborn in our traditions. Do you know she has fourteen black dresses? And they’re all different. But she wears tan coloured shoes with them. It’s embarrassing.”
I had to suppress a laugh. The woman could see I wanted to and started to laugh herself.
“Oh, I’ve kept you long enough. Wish me luck and you have a good holiday. I don’t envy you your job dealing with crazy old ladies all day long.”
“They make my days interesting. Take care of your Mom. She needs you.”
With that she returned to the SUV and the old woman wouldn’t let her in. The daughter used the remote keytag to let herself in. The old woman locked her out again. The daughter pounded on the window and shouted, “Mama, when I get in there I’m gonna kill you.”
And so it went. I drove back to head office and dropped off the stolen wreath with a note for Emily.
“Nona says sorry.”
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon