Page 18


County. After two chapters containing, among other things, much information on the inflated average cost of an adult’s futhe fourth chapter, on the artifacts of funerals, adds the account of Mitford’s participation in “a symposium on death” at the Ohoopee Public Library in Vidalia, Georgia vault salesman by reminding him that although Jesus Christ was indeed laid in a vault, He didn’t stay there long. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with embalming. The account of that dubious but expensive process has been much anthologized for college freshmen. Chapters 7 and 8 turn to “the allied industries” florists, casketmakers, cemeterians, monument-makers, vault manufacturers who often quarrel among themselves as they seek “the common goal … of extracting the maximum admission fee from the paying audience.” Other notable chapters \(there are twenty in sort to the retort,” trace fashions in funerals, recount the Federal Trade Commission’s feeble attempts at government regulation, record the growth of the multinationals that have led “the drive to upgrade and up-price funerals,” and present Mitford’s view that the American way of death is more reprehensible than British funerary customs. That judgment reveals a Brit’s complacence. Though everyone must admire the simple efficiency with which Lord Nelson was brought home from Trafalgar \(he was itable morbidity of the ninth Earl Spencer’s ghastly Dianaland outdoes any individual American spectacle. Mitford believed, however, that collective necrophilia was stronger in the U.S. than in the U.K., perhaps because our “dominant theology” is so weird a mixture “of primitive superstitions and superficial attitudes towards death.” Until the transnational deathsmen penetrated the enfeebled grandmother country, it did cost more to die in the land where nothing is free. In practical matters, prospective customers of undertakers and cemeterians will find special help in the largely new Chapters 19 and 20 \(“Pay Now Die Poorer” appended. “Directory of Not-for-Profit Fu neral and Memorial Societies.” Chapter 19 warns unwary pre-purchasers of funerals, and Chapter 20 suggests a return to the old custom of “handling all funeral arrangements without an undertaker.” Sadly, that suggestion is as far from present reality as the Waltons from the Lewinskys. In Austin, for example, funeral arrangements pre-paid through an insurance policy are honored by respected CookWalden, which coyly advertises as “Central Texas’ Preferred Funeral Provider For More Than 100 Years.” Its multiple funeral homes and cemeteries are in fact owned by Service Corporation International, undreamed-of a century ago. The chief executive of S.C.I. gets annual compensation with a total value of over four million dollars. In a “Preneed Funeral Contract” funded in 1990 through Houston’s Sentinel American Life Insurance Company, the second neral service,” priced at $1,696. The description of the standard service included numerous unexplained items, among them “arrangement counseling and supervision of all details” and “bookkeeping and other administrative procedures.” The description ended with the warning that “some of the above mentioned funeral service features may be non-declinable,” but the purchaser had no way of knowing which features the warning applied to or what each individual pig in the poke might cost. As it turned out, there was an additional “crematory charge,” and even though cremation was chosen, embalming and a casket were required if the survivors were to enjoy a family “viewing.” No explanation was offered of the disposition of the casket. It’s in such enlightened business practices, Bush Minor informs us in his campaign for governorship-cum-presidency, that governments should never intervene, lest the public be a cheapo, just $2,273. In innocence, I still paid too much. Cook-Walden’s present price list indicates that grander expenditures are not just possible but required. Whatever arrangement the corpse-to-be selects, an initial fee of $1,275 will be added for “minimum services of the funeral director and staff.” Embalming, specified as necessary for “a funeral with viewing,” is listed at $695, as are “Use of Facilities and Staff Services for Funeral Service in Our Chapel.” “Graveside Service” adds $495. “Direct cremation with casket purchased from our funeral home” incinerates $1,565, “in addition to cost of casket,” which ranges from $895 to $7,200 \(my CWO4 Douglas Brown 20 gauge steel set me back $15,750, a mere urn for “cremains,” $995. Other charges are estimated: cemetery $645, crematory $4,350, flowers $350, and so a long way forth in many possible combinations. Prices are “subject to change without notice,” but a really enthusiastic funeral in 1998 could cost some $30,000. So Mitford’s hopes for “simple, cheap funerals” have been defeated, but she keeps her reputation as scourge of funerary folly. The British U-folk could indeed be humongous ass-pains, and Mitford was among them. She was always self-consciously U, maybe even a bit of a name-dropper. Her favorite subject was always herself. Even in her fights against racism, one senses less principle than a love of battle. For all that, she was brave, tough, witty, intelligent, more concerned for character and ability than for rank, ultimately admirable. I would have saved some money if I had read her book in ’63 or ’78. James Sledd is professor emeritus of English at U.T.Austin. He advises that less takake persons than himself might inquire concerning the Austin Memorial and Similar organizations are listed for Corpus Christi, Dallas and North Texas, Houston, San Antonio, and Waco. ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip OCTOBER 23, 1998, THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29 A Ao.c+.