I just finished up reading one of the few memoirs that has been able to keep me thoroughly interested throughout the book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Stories from the Crematory. A quirky (obviously) coming-of-age story of 20-something Caitlin Doughty, it recalls her youth in Hawaii’i and becoming fascinated with death. Not fascinated with the afterlife, but the process of how humans, particularly present day Americans, have evolved to disassociate with death and everything involved with the process of disposing of a body.
She is working at Westwind Mortuary in San Fransisco at the novels start; she has a great sense of humor (think: mine and Lindsay’s type humor) in dealing with the dead bodies. I assume you have to have some humor in dealing with a body that has rot, bloated, or needs any type of makeup.
Through her time at the Mortuary, Caitlin discovers that her job is mainly to get rid of what “normal people” don’t want to see and what was common less than a hundred years ago, a dead body. She relents and accepts that growing up in the United States has created a fear of mortality in all of us. When a loved one dies, we do not care for the body; embalming and making a body look “natural” for viewings is a very recent phenomenon.
There are a few exceptions. Several of Westwind’s clients do want to have some sort of home ritual involving a dead body, but the police and morticians explain that is “illegal” even though it is clearly not. She has great disdain for the funeral industry itself and the monopoly it has created in body disposal, which she admits is ironic. She vows to change the death industry and make the population more accepting of death and the way we should depart with our loved ones: not in the care of a stranger, but in our own hands.
It was an interesting read (clearly!) and really presented some interesting facts I had never considered about the death industry. I laughed out loud several times and found myself never getting bored, perhaps because it is so easy to read her writing.
So, in the spirit of Halloween and the dead, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for! (Editors Note: Although a Bloody Mary would have been a great cocktail to include here, please recall I used that on one of our least favorite reads of all time.)
Cherry Whiskey Smash
1 ounce Jack Daniels
1 ounce cherry juice
1/2 ounce amaretto
1/2 ounce ginger brandy
2 ounces cherry “cola”
Add cherries to the bottom of a glass and muddle. Add ice. In a shaker, add the rest of ingredients except the cola. Shake well. Pour in the glass and top with cherry cola.
Until next time, happy season of the macabre!