The Body Count

After seven years as a published historical romance author, I started writing the Lady Adelaide cozy mystery series in 2017. All of a sudden, killing seemed so much easier than kissing. Perhaps it was the political climate, or I just got bored untying corsets. I wrote the first book Nobody’s Sweetheart Now in two and a half months, a record for me. (Subsequent books have taken much, much longer, LOL.) It was published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2018, the fourth and last will come out in September of this year.

Some of the commonly agreed-to rules for cozies: no blood or gore or anything too gross or stressful or scary. Therefore, with two exceptions, I have killed about a dozen people in four books off the page, most of whom are unknown to the reader/getting what they deserve/very unlucky but inconsequential. Unlike real life tragedy in this pandemic, the reader is not meant to mourn them very much, if at all.

I don’t want to downplay murder or criminals, because death is, after all, rather final, and criminality is downright evil. But I’ve tried to be somewhat light-hearted, even making one of my main characters a ghost with a wicked sense of humor. (Of course, I did have to kill him off first.) He is atoning for his louche life on earth by assisting in murder investigations before he can move on to Heaven, and we’ll see how well he does in Farewell Blues.

At my stage in life, I contemplate death and Heaven more often than I used to. When I was in first grade, my paternal grandfather Huntington Lanman, AKA “Pete,” died, and his was the first death that hit close to home. At that tender age, I did not know him very well, but apparently Pete was a prankish bon vivant who dropped his glass eye into other peoples’ drinks at cocktail parties. No wonder my grandmother divorced him. I am forever grateful I never found anything untoward in my milk on any family visits.

Anyway, I remember boarding the Staten Island Ferry with my parents and step-grandmother Leone and a large brown paper bag, which was filled with my grandfather’s ashes. When we passed the Statue of Liberty, my father threw Pete overboard. I’ll always wonder if they burned my grandfather’s glass eye along with the rest of him. Perhaps this unconventional—and probably illegal—good-bye put me on my current murderous path.

My father David Trumbull Lanman sprinkled my mother Margarete’s ashes in the sand dunes of Jones Beach, which was one of their favorite places (also no doubt illegal, and kind of icky for the next barefoot sunbather). For three years in the 90s, we took care of my father and my husband’s mother Frances, both elderly and ill, before they died in our house in Norwich, Connecticut. In an unfortunate sequence of events, Frances passed on three weeks before my dad, and I will always remember the undertakers asking, “Weren’t we just here?” when they arrived the second time. I felt like I was in Arsenic and Old Lace, and expected the authorities to arrive any moment and haul me away in handcuffs.

My mother-in-law Frances still resides in an upstairs closet in a very handsome wooden box. Needless to say, I avoid that closet. I buried my father’s ashes in our garden, since Norwich seemed a fitting place. The Lanman family first settled there in the 1700s before they went down south to New York, and my father was very interested in genealogy. Lots of the houses in town date to before the American Revolution, and I know Lanmans and Trumbulls and Huntingtons all hung out seditiously together in taverns and revolted. And probably drank a lot.

Simon Huntington Tavern on the Norwichtown Green

When we went to my childhood home to clear it out, I found a very nice green pitcher in the dirt crawl space of the cellar that had some strange granular substance in it. I dumped out the contents into a trash bag, washed it, and it’s now in my kitchen holding spatulas and spoons. It was a little while afterward that I realized I threw away my paternal grandmother Ruth. Really, my dad should have attached a warning note to it or something. I remembered too late he’d been indecisive as to where to dispose of her, but I guess Granny didn’t mind as she’s not haunting me seeking vengeance. I don’t think.

When my time comes, I really don’t want a funeral or fuss. Cremation is fine, and I want no one arrested when they figure out what to do with me. I do know I don’t want to wind up in somebody’s closet or cellar or trash bag. Gosh, the kids will probably have to finally deal with Frances after I’m gone too.

What are your post-life plans? I’m still deciding where to be scattered. Then I’d like a pizza party and have Get Together by the Youngbloods played a couple of times. Dancing and singing are optional.

Love is but a song we sing
Fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Some may come and some may go
He will surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment’s sunlight
Fading in the grass

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand, listen
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

I said come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
Right now
Right now

Songwriter: Chet Powers

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17 Responses to The Body Count

  1. Marilyn Lugner says:

    Grandmother Ruth’s pitcher made me laugh! Glad she isn’t haunting you yet…

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      That I know of, LOL. I really do feel guilty.

      • Marilyn Lugner says:

        Was Grandmother Ruth a practical sort? Perhaps she’d be pleased to know that the pitcher is in use in plain sight!

      • maggierobinsonwriter says:

        Marilyn, Ruth was definitely not practical, the baby of her large (7 kids) family and spoiled. Basically I think she’d be horrified that she was poured into an ordinary pitcher, so maybe she’ll forgive me for liberating her!

  2. Teri says:

    Fabulous post!!

  3. Judi Phillips says:

    Love the post and family stories. I plan to have my ashes scattered in Buxton Maine close to the ashes of my parents

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      I wish I could decide. I love my garden here, but I’m not sure new owners would like me in their backyard!

  4. Pat Dupuy says:

    That is too much! Dad wrote a casual note, telling us when the time comes, cremation please. No viewing. No flushing the ashes down the toilet. National Cemetery please. Should be inexpensive.
    Very typical of Dad. So that is where Mom and Dad both are. And unknown to the cemetery my youngest sister’s ashes rest with Dad’s in his box.
    As for me, I told our son I don’t care. Cremate me. Scatter my ashes somewhere interesting, but NOT (and here I named a couple of places I didn’t wish to be while alive).

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      No viewing for me either. I used to have an outfit I was saving for “The End” but I gave it to Goodwill, LOL.

  5. L.C. Rooney says:

    This was the most delightful blog post I’ve read in a long, LONG time! Thanks for sharing! And, yes, scattering me into or by the sea would be fine with me — in fact, preferred. No muss, no fuss, and the smell of salt air forever surrounding me.

  6. Sister Kate remains horrified that I gave part of our late mom to a friend of hers so she could share a mantel in Oregon. Much of the rest of her fertilized asparagus, rhubarb and the pond lilies in Sennebec Lake.

  7. Nina Pierce says:

    But the pitcher though… LOL!

  8. Jane Bigelow says:

    A friend of ours loved travel. After his death, his widow asked that any of us who were willing to take small containers of his ashes, take them and scatter them in places we thought he would have liked. I think he would be pleased with the wide distribution.

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