Smiling all the way into the grave |

Smiling all the way into the grave

The biggest expense at my funeral will be the yellow and black “smiley faces.” No, I’m not asking my mourners (if any) to wear them, I’ll be doing that. But only if they turn out to be sufficiently biodegradable (the smiley faces, not the mourners).

The expense is in the lab work, not the smiley faces themselves. The question is: Are they made from an indestructible synthetic fiber that will retain its shape and perky demeanor for all eternity, or are they regular cotton like the rest of the quilt?

Grandma’s hand-stitched heirloom quilt. It is one of those ancient designs with octagon-shaped patches, each from a different bolt of cloth. She made it for me before I was born, from scraps she’d saved all HER life, and it’s been with me ever since.

Over the years, a few of the octagons became frayed and torn. Understandable, since some are over 100 years old. I was going to fold it away into storage with my childhood memorabilia when my wife breathed new life into it with an expert patch job.

Her work-woman-ship was equal to grandma’s, even if her choice of a 1970s’ era smiley face pattern was perhaps a bit anachronistic. And it adds just the right whimsical note when spread upon our bed.

I plan to be wrapped burrito-style in the tortilla of grandma’s heirloom quilt when I am buried. The question is: Will those relentless little smiles keep pace with me in a rotting contest?

This is important because several acres of Clear Creek Ranch are in the process of being designated a nature preserve with a natural burial option. It will be one of many “green graveyards” that are springing up (if that is the appropriate term) around the country.

Unlike the typical big-lawn cemetery, there will be little yardwork involved. Any grass that grows here will NOT be mowed, and the re-encroachment of native chaparral will be encouraged. Not too different from the Clear Creek Ranch status quo. The whole point will be to preserve the acreage in its natural state, which means our “green” graveyard will go brown during the dry months.

As one of those darned baby boomers, I have, until recently, considered death to be optional, rather than a natural part of the life cycle. But having recently buried several family members of the previous generation in the conventional (and expensive) brass-handled-casket-in-the-cement-vault-under-the-big-lawn way, I can face the inevitable and still say, “I’d like something a little different for me, please.”

A simple burial in a biodegradable wooden casket, or cardboard egg crate, or wrapped up like a filo-dough pastry in grandma’s quilt makes more sense for me. A unique funeral, handcrafted and hand-dug. And on a hillside offering a glimpse of the Sutter Buttes in the distance and even the coast range on a really clear day, if one stands on one’s tippy toes.

Which I will be in no condition to do. But I won’t have to deal with the pesky problem of who gets the Ranch after we are gone. If this deal goes through, we plan to sell a limited number of burial slots in the preserve area, which will fund the preservation of the whole Ranch, carrying a love and respect of nature to the grave and beyond.

But it all hinges on the chemical makeup of those smiley faces.

I know the concept sounds a little wacky, but we aren’t talking about planting grandma under the azalea bush. Done properly, it’s legal and environmentally safe.

If you’d like to learn more about green burials, check out those other “Creek” folks at Ramsey Creek who pioneered this concept. Go to


Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at

His column appears every other Tuesday, alternating with Gina Gippner’s column, “Just Mom.”

Read Mike Drummond’s latest columns at on the Web.

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