Alison Clement

observations from a novelist who sometimes wants to say something small and see it published immediately

>Burying Angel O’Malley

I didn’t know Annalise very well, but when she died, I went to her service. She lived in Beaver Creek, and she grew garlic. I have a picture of her surrounded by long stalks of garlic, with flowers in her hair.
When she died I went to her house and cleaned it. Margie from down the road showed up with her tractor and mowed the field that was Annalise’s yard. A few days later, the service was held there. I took my camera.
Annalise was cremated and her sister poured her ashes into our hands and we sprinkled them on her property and in the creek and in the garden.
Back then, I always had my camera with me. I took pictures of everything, all the time and that day, as always, I took pictures. I took a picture of Annalise’s sister. They had come here together back in the 60s, young hippie girls, sisters, best friends. They wanted to have an all girl rock band. They married and built houses in the woods. They lived up Beaver Creek surrounded by forests that were sprayed with 245D, a diluted form of Agent Orange, and Annalise died of cancer when she was 32. I took a picture of her house and her dahlias and her nephew and her niece and all her friends. I took a picture of Roy, playing his guitar, and Rita setting off bottle rockets. I took all those pictures that day. When I got them back, I was ashamed. I hated to think of myself there, with my camera, putting a frame around things, looking for the best shot. I felt like a voyeur. I felt like I had taken something precious and deeply personal and turned it into something hateful. I put all the pictures -even the best ones- in an envelope and gave them to Annalise’s sister and told her I was sorry for taking them.
A few days ago a short story I wrote came out in The Sun. It’s called Burying Angel O’Malley. It’s a story about the burial of a little girl. In fact, it’s Annalise’s service and my friend Tom’s burial and the death of a ten-year-old girl all put together into a story I call fiction. Why is that different than taking photographs? Why do I feel like I’ve honored their deaths when I write about them? Am I fooling myself?

Categories: children, Oregon, writing


4 replies

  1. >Wow! Just read your story in The Sun this morning and was very touched. Beautifully written and I have a soft spot for the folks in the Coast Range.It especially struck home because I am involved with a group trying to get off the ground a movement supporting natural funerals and green cemeteries, as they are doing in England. Fiction or not, to create a ceremony for dying out of the same spirit that you’ve lived, seems like a good thing. I plan on reading your story to our group sometime soon. I doubt I will be able to make it through without tears.

  2. >Dan,The story is fiction, but the description of the burial—from being laid out in the livingroom to being buried by friends and family in the woods in back of the house— is from an actual burial. It was taken from the burial of a friend of mine, a man named Tom. Even though the burial was hard, by the time it was over, I think all of us who were there knew we had been through something important. Tom died the way he lived. There was nothing hidden or evasive or phony about him. I’d love to think that Tom’s story helped contribute in some small way to the movement for natural funerals. Please let me know how things go.

  3. >Dan,If you read this, would you please contact me privately and give me your email? I’d like to put you in contact with a woman whose granddaughter died– instead of using a mortuary, her parents created a service for her at their house. Her father is Latino. (Her description of the child’s burial tradition is the same as was requested by the parents of a Mexican child at the school where I worked. When Marcella died, her parents wanted to bath her body, to dress her, to sit with her all night– the funeral home so upset by this that at one point they threatened to call the police.) At any rate, the woman who contacted me about her granddaughter said she’d be happy to talk to you, if you like. my email–

  4. >I don’t think you should regret sharing something meaningful and beautiful with those of us who were not there and couldn’t experience it for ourselves. Anyone who is your friend probably knows their life is fair game 🙂 and more seriously, that your intent is to offer something helpful to the larger community.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s