The other day, I found my inner Muzak (lights, bubbles, thumping speaker, spinning discs) belting out the following Golden Oldie:

    Lay that pistol down, ma,
    Lay that pistol down;
    Pistol-packin' momma,
    Lay that pistol down.

That was on the hit parade back in 1941 - 1942, just as we were getting into WWII. It was a message to peace-loving American mothers everywhere that it was OK to go to war. I must have heard it on the radio enough times that I could memorize it and declaim it whenever called on.

In the building where those of us between the ages of six and twelve were caught every day --- Fishweir Grade School --- the teachers often had us do Show & Tell. I got up on the stage and belted out "Pistol-Packin' Mama" much to my fellow students' disgust, much to my teachers' delight. They, the teachers, liked this nine-year-old with his dark curly hair bunched up and frizzed out and singing his little heart out.

Mum also loved my tuneful makeup and my many locks. Her lady friends would often fondle my crown and whisper in my ear, "Hey, boy, where'd you get them curls?" I did not know the proper answer to such existential questions, so I just, for once, shut up.

My teachers Mrs. Ross and Miss Hill thought my high penetrating voice to be wonderful, so they decided that I should entertain all of the other classes (several times) with "Pistol-Packin' Mama:"

    Drinking beer at the cabaret
    And was I having fun
    'Til one night she shot out the lights
    And now I'm on the run.

    Lay that pistol down, babe
    Lay that pistol down
    Pistol packin' mama
    Lay that pistol down.

    She kicked out my windshield
    She hit me over the head
    She cussed and cried and said I'd lied
    And wished that I was dead.

    Hey, lay that pistol down, babe,
    Lay that pistol down &ct. &ct.

§   §   §

To say that I am attached to my body is an understatement, even though it's getting harder and harder to crank up every day: the generator is wheezy, the pistons whine, the transmission is rattly and you don't even want to hear about the exhaust. I think we're getting to the stage where we are going to have to part it out, or ---better --- ship it off to the junk-yard.

Before they do that, I've opted for something appropriate: I want to go out in a blaze. I've asked them to set it afire one last time, 4000 degrees fahrenheit.

This may bring instant relief, but it also brings up the question, "What do you want us to do with the ashes?"

Which might be a pretty silly question. If I, the primary tenant, am checking out, and tell them to go ahead and torch the building, do I really care about the wall-hangings?

This came up recently because over the last few dozen years I had misplaced my directive from the People's Memorial Society 1964 (Remember them? It was Jessica Mitford's baby,) So Tom and Rachel and I were setting forth a directive that said in my final hours, I should be parboiled or fried or baked, whatever it is that happens in the crematoria.

My friend Hugh Gallagher had specified that after his cremation, the ashes were to be dumped into the creek there in Cabin John, down hill from his house. Even though we never consulted the EPA (I am sure they would have put the kibosh on this ecologically unsound death-bed wish of his), we sneaked Hugh out the back door of his house and trekked down to the water's edge and stood around with his pot-of-gold.

Some noodle-head then decided that each of us should hold onto the urn for a moment or two and think our best thoughts of Hugh. I remembered a couple of funny dope sessions he and I had had together, then I passed the jar over to Paul. Paul didn't have half my seniority, but, to my surprise, came up with something nice, out of left field. He said, meditatively, "You know, this weighs about six pounds. [Dramatic pause.] I'm thinking that Hugh weighs the same now as he did when he was born, back in 1932." We were then invited to dip our hands in the jar and toss him to the winds.

I peeked and found the silt mixed with a few extra large bits of tooth and bone to be somewhat grisly. So I begged off.

Now they're asking me if I want to put my friends to the same trouble when I finally get my fifteen minutes of flame.

I respond, not thinking it over too much, "Me? God knows. I don't care. Why don't you just haul me over to the municipal dump and ... well ... dump me out." I really don't want to think about it at all.

"Do you want your ashes spread here or in Mexico?" they persisted. Should I ask people to take these bits of me to sprinkle on the windy, gray-green mountains of Oaxaca? Do you have to declare bone ash and tooth at the border? As what?

My friends wanted to be sure that my ashes would be happy ... though I had this possibly foolish thought that when I finally croaked, I'd not be there anymore. Certainly not stuffed in a $50 urn.

Despite the fact that, unless I'm in a traffic jam, or on the telephone with some government official at SSI, or throwing up after a binge, or being in a hospital (or in a Baptist church) --- wheresoever I am, I am most often in my favorite place on earth.

Even with that ridiculous childhood song bobbling about in my head, me and my gun-totin' mama:

    She kicked out my windshield
    She hit me over the head
    She cussed and cried and said I'd lied
    And wished that I was dead.

--- L. W. Milam
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