Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Feeding Grandpop to the Ducks

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle in December 2007.

The recent discovery of the cremated remains in a pond in Plainville turned out to be a simple thing. The woman’s last request to be scattered at the pond had been fulfilled, except instead of being “scattered” she was more “placed” in the pond, container and all.

After five years the container was discovered by some kids when the water level fell. They turned it over to police, who traced it back to the family.

While the story may have seemed odd to some, in my family it brought back memories of a similar situation that still makes us both laugh and shudder to this day.

Almost 20 years ago my wife’s maternal grandfather passed away. Grandpop, as we all called him, was one of the nicest men I have ever known. Deaf since an early age, he was a skilled engraver and artist with a kind heart and a gentle soul.

In his retirement years Grandpop would often walk to the park near his home. While there he would sketch people as they sat or walked, and every day he would feed the ducks populating the big pond in the center.

He went so often the ducks would recognize him and come running to greet him. His final wish was to be cremated and have his family scatter his ashes around the pond.

So it came to pass my wife’s entire family gathered together on a sunny Sunday afternoon to fulfill his final wish. Since disbursing remains in a public park is generally frowned upon, my dear late mother-in-law reminded us all to “be inconspicuous and not be noticed”.

Looking around at the assembled family members, I had to stifle a laugh. There were about 25 of us, all dressed in our Sunday best. The group included a large number of children, three wheelchairs, and my rather large mother-in-law carrying an urn.

I can’t be sure, but I think someone might have noticed us.

Once we got there, it was decided everyone would take a turn spreading a little of Grandpop’s ashes into the pond as we walked around it. Wanting to get my turn out of the way, I stepped up and offered to begin the process.

If you have never had the opportunity to spread ashes, you probably don’t understand the consistency of them. I certainly didn’t, and was a bit surprised. I took the urn and shook a little into the water, then passed it to the next relative and stepped back to view the process from a distance.

As the procession continued to sprinkle and move along the water’s edge, I noticed the ashes floating back to the surface of the water. As I stood wondering if I should tell anyone, I suddenly realized someone else had noticed.

The ducks, who Grandpop had fed every day, were rapidly swimming in towards shore. Where we saw a solemn ceremony, they merely saw dinner.

Panic struck me. I quickly strode down, tapped my wife on the shoulder, and quietly said “Don’t get upset, but the ducks are eating Grandpop.”

Already emotional over the death of a loved one, my wife alerted the others. There ensued a wild period of splashing, yelling and distracting the ducks to the other end of the pond while others stood at the edge in a desperate effort to sink Grandpop to his final resting place.

We would never have forgotten Grandpop under any circumstances, but after that experience it was even harder. And we did learn our lesson.

When my wife’s grandmother passed away a few years later, we went back to the park. But this time we brought bread, and during the scattering the ducks had a more conventional meal on the other side of the pond.

Please remember to check the law and the local regulations before spreading your loved ones in any particular area.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a loaf of bread handy, just in case.

Bill Gouveia, who wants to take his remains with him, is a local columnist. He can be reached in this world at

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