Mr. Dittmore and I had a very quiet ride on the hour-long trip from Vienna to Macon. He said nothing to me, nor I to him. That was usually how it went when I had a passenger in the back of the hearse.
From December 1975 through the end of 1980 I worked with my father’s nephew, Rooney Bowen. He owned a Chevy dealership and a nearby funeral home. From cars to caskets, we had it covered.
I never met Mr. Dittmore. He was a tourist passing through on I-75 with some of his family. I don’t remember where he was from or where he was going. Seems like they were on their way to Florida, but I’m no longer certain of that.
Bowen Funeral Home handled about 50 calls a year, almost all of them being local residents. I can still name a few of the people we buried during my five years of employment. Mr. Dittmore, however, is the only name I can recall of a person I never met.
Cremations were not common at that time, at least not in our part of rural Georgia. On the rare occasion that we had such a request, we took the deceased person to Hart’s Mortuary in Macon. I left Mr. Dittmore’s body at their crematory and returned to Vienna, not having any inclination to learn the details of the process.
Mr. Dittmore’s family continued on their southward route. They planned to pick up his ashes on their return trip home. There was no rush for us to go back to Macon.
Herschel Davis was the longtime mortician for the funeral home. He was a big man with an easy-going disposition, greatly loved by the community and the many families he served. His respectful approach to work was reflected in his kind manner and attention to detail.
A few days after my trip to Macon, I stopped by the funeral home. Herschel was in the office with his feet propped up on the desk. He was lighting another cigarette to add to an overflowing ashtray. I picked up a small cardboard box that he had apparently seen no urgency in opening.
“What’s this?” I asked, while trying to read the label.
“Mr. Dittmore,” Herschel replied. His knowing smile was somewhat obscured by the cigarette he held between two fingers. He took another long draw without making further comment.
“Mr. Dittmore?” I asked, stunned that he had returned to Dooly County by way of the U.S. Postal Service.
“Mr. Dittmore,” he confirmed, still smiling as he exhaled a cloud of smoke. That little brown box was suddenly too heavy to hold. I delicately placed it back on the desktop where I had found it.
That was my first experience with cremation. My opinion then was that it was best to be facing east like the rest of our family. Cremation has, however, travelled a slow road toward acceptability for me and many others. I figure that since Adam came from dust, ashes won’t cause any delays on Resurrection Day.
In December of 1980 I changed jobs and began working at Bank of Dooly. Over the years there were several occasions when families came in to borrow money for traditional type burials. Cremation, though much less expensive, was never an option those families considered.
But it led me to do some soul searching of my own, to weigh the pros and cons of different methods for those final arrangements. One night after supper I decided to have a serious talk with my wife, Jane. I said, “Honey, with funeral costs going up, I’ve been thinking about cremation.”
She was more startled than I had expected. “I didn’t think you would want to be cremated,” she remarked with a bewildered look.
That’s when I said more than I should have. “I wasn’t talking about me,” I responded.
I should have known better. Cremation can be a hot topic.