The Burning of Morel Brigham

Old Morley wasn’t ashes yet. But he soon would be. The joke was Old Morely was gonna burn twice, once in the Crematory Oven, and again in perpetuity in the Devil’s Workshop. Bishop Odner was not pleased about the joke or the idea of anybody—even somebody as recalcitrant as Morley Brigham—having their God-given body burned. He had threatened Genie that he would have no part in the ceremony if she was going to go through with roasting her husband. But, as he knew, this was an empty threat.

“Well, Levi, that’s Morel’s last wishes, and I am vow bound to see it done,” Genie said.

“God gave him that body,” Levi Odner said. “Don’t you think we should show it some respect?”

“Good Lord, Levi, look what he done with what he got. You think burning it up is going to do any more damage? Hell, he already burned most of it already.”

Bishop Odner did not have much argument with that. But he made one last plea. “We’re made in God’s image, Genie. Would you burn God.”

“You can’t convince me that’s God down there on Frankie’s slab right now,” Genie said. “I spent forty-three years with that man. And one thing I know. Good soul that he was, he wasn’t Jesus Christ.

“I’m vow-bound to respect his final word,” She said with finality.

So, Levi Odner agreed to having the services in the Church. If he didn’t, Genie would just shop the funeral services to the Father Justinan or Pastor Nick. And if she did that Ole Morely would not have a consecrated place for his eternal rest, he’d just be some box or urn on the Genie’s fireplace mantel, next to the other trophies she had won. His death would be like his life, except he probably wouldn’t be cussing, drinking whisky, and insisting on being Santa Claus at the LDS Church Christmas Pot Luck.

“Well, naturally, we’ll have the service at the Church,” he said. “But I would like to consecrate, dedicate his final resting place. The. . . uh, urn, or whatever. . . .”

“Oh,” Genie said, “We’re gonna put him in the manure spreader with a bunch of manure and run it across the hayfields.”

“O,” Levi said, as gracefully as his shock would let him.

So, there Morley was in front of the dais on his back, finally in a suit and tie, in a pine plank box, looking for all the world as smug and satisfied as he always did. Genie boasted she had bought the suit for three dollars at the Not Shop New; the bow tie, she said, was a rayon clip-on Morely had had since he took her to the high school Junior Prom. It was a bit ragged and tattered, but the undertaker had done as good a job with it as he had done with Morely’s whiskey nose and liver spots. “Never looked more like a saint than he does right now,” Genie had muttered as she adjusted the tie at the viewing.

The service was the usual Mormon Open Mic to be followed and closed by a Bishop Odner’s sermon on eternal life and being saved in the next world if we had not quite made the grade in this one.o

The open mic was the usual. John Dringleson went on and on about how in the last weeks ole Morel had indicated by suggestion and implied action that he wished he’d been a better Mormon and hadn’t been so sinful. Bishop Odner and most of his congregation had doubts about this, but believed it as part of the eternal plan they worded every day.

Ash Morgan filled in what sinful meant in so far as Morley was concerned. “There was three things Ole Morel loved more than anything else in this world,” Ash said. “And any one of them if he hadn’t repented like Johnny said, woulda got him a burning.” This got a mournful chuckle from the congregation. Which pleased Ash immensely.

“He loved a pretty fanny, but he stuck pretty much with Genie so far as we know. Which was better than David did, that old leche.” The congregation was unaccountably (from Ash’s point of view) silent on this little joke.

“And he never was ever totally drunk. He did pop a top or two most days. And he liked a whiskey or two or three after supper.” Most of the congregation squirmed in their pews. Some snickered.

“And Coffee. Man, that man loved his coffee. We all remember Ole Morel with that forty gallon mug. (Ash waited for a chuckle. It didn’t come.) Well, there’s always a pot boiling away on the stove at Genie and Morel’s and everybody got offered a coffee and a beer. (The congregation squirmed a lot, but Ash kept trying.) Even Home teachers (and I should know, I was his Home Teacher for a while), even the Missionaries when they came over to set things straight for him. “Wanna beer,” Ole Morely would say. “No thanks, Morel,” I would tell him. One kid actually said ‘sure,’ which shut old Morel up pretty soon. One thing he wasn’t about to do is ruin the morals of others. Even if he wasn’t all that moral. . . .” Bishop Odner had to step up to gently remind Ash that others should be given a chance to memorialize Morely.

Wilson Odner stood up just before his brother, the Bishop was about to stand and close things out with his sermon. Wilson, unlike his brother, was somewhat ambiguous about God, Sainthood, and the Everafter.

“There are men burning in hell,” Wislon said, “That never smoked a cigarette, never sat back with a cup of morning Jo to watch the magpies in the wind, who never commiserated with a lonely old widower over a beer at the Last Lost Dollar. And as Ash has noted, Morel Brigham was not one of these people. Ash mentioned morals. Thanks, Ash for bringing it up.

“I knew this man for the sixty-seven years we both shared on this planet. Most of us remember when Jim Dawson’s bronc took him out, dumped him into the rocks, two broken legs, a face mashed like potatoes. Calving season just starting. We all remember that, all remember the casseroles we brought over to Katie and the three kids—all under eight at the time. We all remember an hour or two when we stopped by to check the herd, get in Katie’s way. Proud we were because they weren’t members, weren’t Mormon.

But how many of you remember when you stopped by to do your duty, that Morel was there ahead of you. That spring was miserable, wind like desolation and cold—in the minus doubles most nights. And Morel had a hundred and fifty of his own he had to calve. Yet, he spent six weeks, night and day in two calving yards. Then in April, when Jim usually turned water out of the creek, he still wasn’t on both pegs, still in physical therapy. So, Morel turned water into both ditches, and ran both heads of water across those two ranches.

They were neighbors, after all.

“So, when people start talking about Morel Brigham roasting in hell for his pack a day, the little pleasures of his beer, his forty-gallon coffee mug, I pretty much have to say, you never knew Morel Brigham. Morel Brigham was that man in the bar with me two years ago after Peggy died. He didn’t say much. I didn’t either. We just sat, and, yes, we did had a beer or two. But here’s the thing. Morel was there. He didn’t care if Peggy or me or him were going to sing with angels in heaven or burn forever in hell. All he knew is that Peg was gone and I hurt like hell. That was Morel Brigham.” Wilson abruptly turned from the podium and strode up the aisle and out the back of the chapel.

The silence in the congregation was complete. They heard the door of the church squawk open then hiss closed. Someone coughed. Bishop Odner stood up. “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen,” he said for his brother. Then announced the closing song, “Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” and said that he would say the closing prayer. He did, made it brief. Then Morley’s two boys, two nieces and a couple of friends, hoisted the pine box and trundled the old boy to his burning.

Six weeks later, in early June, Bishop Odner was seen with his brother in the Brigham hay field. It was a knee high tangle of well fertilized, new alfalfa and timothy so they had to work to pull their legs through it. They struggled to near the middle of it. They bowed their heads over that early summer green field, the odor of just irrigated dust, and not yet blooming alfalfa encompassing them. They stood for quite some time. Then they turned and waded through the alfalfa back to Wilson’s pickup.

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