Caskets for sale

Caskets for sale
Caskets for sale

About five miles north of Gilmer, Texas, on the west side of U. S.  Highway 271, I encountered this sign.  I was on the way to the first Saturday meeting of the Northeast Texas Writers Organization (NETWO) to listen to a presentation about social media.

While I was at the meeting, the sign kept running through my head.  We discussed Facebook, writing, Twitter, blogging. We ate pizza and talked about Romance novels, point of view, the state of independent publishing, editing, Kindle Direct, the Kindle Fire.  We bemoaned the demise of bookstores, pondered print on demand, exchanged email addresses.

We parsed John Locke’s approach to selling eBooks.

There was even a passing mention of Tweetdeck, Tweetadder, Triberr and Stumbleupon.

We chased rabbits down a trail about how “Christian fiction” is an anomaly, a name for a Mickey Mouse version of the world where people talk like saints when they hit their fingers with a hammer.

“Oh, gosh, that hurt like heck,” he said piously.

But we never got around to discussing life and death.

What have we come to as writers?  Is it really just a matter of figuring out a book cover that catches someone’s eye, or do we need to reassess what’s happening to us?

Five miles from the Pizza Inn in Pittsburg, Texas, where writers meet to talk about their craft, someone has set up shop selling cheap caskets to the public.

$500 & UP
$500 & UP

For whom? Borders? Barnes and Noble?

I don’t think so.

The person who will be laid to rest in a $500 coffin is someone’s father or mother.  Maybe it will be an uncle that drank himself to death on rotgut whiskey trying to forget the girl that Dear Johned him when he was freezing his butt off in Korea (I’m not trying to publish this as a “Christian” genre blog, so I can say “butt” if I want). Maybe a dad and mom will have to scrimp together a few hundred dollars and borrow the rest to lay their only child in the ground after she ran out into the road to fetch a baseball that got away. Maybe the kids will pitch in and buy grandma a cheap pine box because they have spent everything they had attempting to provide a suitable place for her while she wasted away with Alzheimer’s.

Perhaps a WWII vet will die a pauper in the psych ward at the county hospital, and the proprietor of the store on Highway 271 will receive a call.

“$500 is as low as I can go. Oh, you think you’ll need three this week? Okay, I can give them to you for $450 each, but that’s it,” he said before he hung up the phone.

Or maybe a church will rent a “nice” casket for Easter Sunday services, and leave it open at the front of the sanctuary so the preacher can make his point about the resurrection of Jesus.

Maybe some poor widow who has outlived everyone she loved and everyone who loved her has one on layaway, paying $25 per  month on it out of her Social Security check, hoping she gets it free and clear before the final day arrives.

Aren’t these the stories we should tell? Shouldn’t we craft novels about things that are ultimately important, about the struggles that decimate people, the victories that keep them alive for a few  more breaths?

Life is not a genre, death not a Kindle best-seller category.

Perhaps we shouldn’t treat them as such.



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  • Caleb Pirtle

    What did you expect? In Gilmer, the delicacy is still candied yams and baked Possum. People spend their whole lives saving for a $500 casket, which is roughly the price of their last cars.

  • Gaymingram

    My, my – that sign really stirred you, didn’t it , Stephen. Thank you for reminding us of the real things that matter – life is more than finding the quickest way to the most dollars. I just hope the stories I write come close to meeting this goal you’ve set for us writers.

    • Thanks. I have been driving by that place for months, and every time I wanted to stop and take a picture. Yesterday, I couldn’t resist. The thing that spurred me was the new sign, which is the one at the top of the post. I don’t know if you could read the fine print, but it says, “Open To Public.”
      This is a good follow up to the discussion at the NETWO meeting yesterday about blogging. We don’t have to cook up blogs, they are everywhere around us, stories looking for someone to tell them.

  • Kathy Lynn Hall

    Stephen – I agree with you here – there is fodder for our blogs everywhere. Unfortunately, crass commercialization also surrounds us – but it a reminder that we humans are funny, disparate lot.

    • Thanks for the comment. With so much material passing by us every day, the hardest thing for a writer is to decide what to write about.

  • Jeanne Woodfin Kramer

    When we lived in San Antonio, Terry delivered dental supplies among other things. One of his customers was a dentist who was also a mortician. He advertised the “cheapest funerals in Texas” and sold plain pine caskets as part of the deal. Sounds to me like a good way to go. I’ve had conversation several times in the last week about our tendency to be “unhappy” concerning the state of our lives, when most of us have a fairytale existence compared to the majority of the world’s population. Way to get down to the really nitty, gritty, little brother.

  • Bert Carson

    Stephen, If you hadn’t seen that sign I might have never recalled the comedienne who reported that he recently seen a man selling van seats on the side of the road and immediately thought, ‘There’s some guy and his wife out riding around right now. Just as they were leaving the house the guy says, Ethel, be on the lookout for someone beside the road selling van seats…” You know if we weren’t writers, we’d be crazy…” And then, Ethel, there is a strong possibility that we are both.

    • Bert, I think “crazy” and “writer” are synonyms. But at least we’re having fun. I love vignettes like the one you mentioned.

  • Christina Carson

    God, you do a grand job of writing what matters (nor am I trying to publish in CF). I have come to know that the guts of us need an on-going dose of awe and our hearts large helpings of wonder. Otherwise our tombstones may read: Died from Banal Banter.

    • Christina, thanks for the comment. Yeah, I think we need to dig deep when we write. That’s where the real stuff resides.

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