Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ashes to Memory or Commemoration

Ashes to Memory or Commemoration

By Kevin Anthony Stoda

I share the following stories for those others considering commemorations with ashes.

(Part 1)


There are at least three forms of “commemoration”. A first type has to do with having “a ceremony to honor the memory of someone”. Other kinds of commemoration have to do with other non-ceremonial actions, such as a pilgrimage, or displays of memory, such as a statue or plaque.

My father, Ronald John Stoda, who passed away late last December 2007, did not wish to have a ceremony or a grave. Moreover, like his spouse of 19 years, my father desired to have his remains cremated with no ceremony. In making such a choice, through such an act, my father possibly wished to state that he is simply “ash”. This was the status of our heroes from the Bible, like Abraham (and others in the Bible). Abraham had stated before God, “I am nothing but dust and ashes . . . .” (Gen. 18:27b)

Dad, born October 18, 1934, was a voracious reader, sports fan, card player, and movie watcher. In all, dad read well-over 7000 books and spent many total years of his life following sports at the high school, college and professional levels.

During my last 2 visits with Dad in his home in Jackson, Michigan in late August and early October 2007, he twice alluded to a scene in the classic revisionist-Western movie, LITTLE BIG MAN (1970). Dad said then and at several other times over the year that he would like to be taken up in the hills to die like the Native Americans of old. He clearly didn’t want to die in an old folks home.

It wasn’t till earlier this year—i.e. a few months after my Dad had passed away—that I sat down for the first time to watch the movie, LITTLE BIG MAN. I subsequently came across the somewhat humorous scene (with actors Chief Dan George and Dustin Hoffman) that Dad had so often referred to .

In one of the last scenes in LITTLE BIG MAN, Chief Dan George is playing the aged chief of the tribe of “Human Beings” or Cheyenne Indians. Chief Dan’s character is named Old Lodge Skins, and he is the adoptive grandpa of Jack Crabbe (played by Hoffman), who eventually lives to the ripe old age of 121.

Old Lodge Skins doesn’t desire to live nearly that long and oversee his people becing totally overcome by white man’s domination of 19th Century America. Old Lodge Skins therefore asks his protégé, Jak Crabbe to take him onto a hill overlooking the expansive North American prairie where the aged chief anticipates dying at the end of a mystical ceremony.

However, in keeping with the irony and tongue and cheek comedy of the film’s overall narration, a big rain storm comes along at the end of the ceremony, but instead of the ancient warrior quietly passing away on the prairie, the aged Indian father played by Dan George recovers and both walk back down in the rain from the higher elevation to the plains and to his tribe’s teepees below. They are both laughing and making jokes about the whims of the gods and spirits all along the way.


Although my father had been ailing for many years, his death at the end of 2007 came a bit too sudden for most of us family members. Ronald John Stoda had suffered from heart problems, bad knees and hips, diabetes and other illnesses for a decade or more.

In order to keep with his wishes upon his death, our father was cremated immediately after the first of the year in 2008. Dad definitely did not wish to have his ashes placed in any particular permanent memorial cemetery. He wanted things simple--and evidently with as little traditional sort of commemoration as is possible.

With the help and attendance of many family members, we children, however, organized a small memorial for our father later this summer. (This is why I returned to the USA this July. After the memorial, our family spent time together.) Before my older brother left us that last week of July 2008, though, my older brother gave me Dad’s ashes to distribute to my other two siblings to keep or commemorate in their own special way and in their own especially chosen places.

Over the preceding months, we siblings had discussed via e-mail the possibility of dispersing Dad’s ashes to all corners of the globe. For example, I had suggested taking some of his ashes to a Wisconsin grave where his great grandfather Friedrich Stoda was buried near the Mississippi well-over a century ago. It was also suggested taking the ashes to Asia where I have lived and traveled recently. My youngest sister had suggested taking her ashes (of Dad’s remains) to where his father and mother are buried in Illinois.

The reason I had hesitated to take Dad’s ashes to India concerned the fears I had about the logistics and legality of importing and exporting “cremains” or ashes to other countries. That is, I fathomed I might get into some international legal problem in carrying out the transportation of cremated ashes on airlines without filling out proper paperwork and fees.

I also looked on-line and discovered that there must be a billion-and-one possible ways of commemorating with ashes these days. After all, didn’t Scotty of Star Trek fame have his ashes beamed up into outer space recently? There are even jewelry designs being hawked on the web by those who claim to be able to turn ashes into “articles of art” to be worn by the mourner.

From reviewing many on-line options, I noted that other families have simply put up a permanent on-line memorial to their loved one to go along with their ashes and memories. Still other parks for such memorial ashes are being opened up in cities and towns across the land each year. (My dad would never have gone for that sort of permanent memorial—on-line or not. He didn’t want anything big nor flashy. However, it has been interesting to learn of all the options.)

(Part 2)

The following is a fantasy short story of how and where I placed dad’s ashes and memorial container (one of 5 bricks of ashes provided by the crematorium).

Fantasy is in telling such a tale is important because of the multiplicity of laws, standards, practices, regulations and rules encapsulating every town, village , territory, and various department of government regulators or bureaucrats in America who are currently making a mountain of differing rules concerning how and where to place ashes of loved ones. In short, the process in America is too varied and unwieldy.

For example, I have noted through my on-line research that the U.S. Coast Guard in the San Francisco Bay area will dispose of ashes at sea for free—but only if the ashes are from a veteran of war who had served in the Navy or the Marines. Meanwhile, the only legal way to disperse ashes or commemorate at sea in San Francisco involves fees from 400 dollars or more.

There are different rules for different residents all over North America as of 2008.

Therefore, instead of fantasy baseball this season, I will deal with fantasy dispersal of ashes.


Finally, I had determined to take my father’s ashes to both the waters of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

The decision to take Dad’s ashes to the Mississippi River was obvious in many ways. (The Missouri, of course, flows into the Mississippi.)

First of all, both my grandfather, Floyd Stoda, and my grandmother, Gertrude (Leibold) Stoda, were both born on or near the Mississippi in Wisconsin and Illinois. As a matter of fact, I recall my Granny Gert telling me of how she used to take a boat across the Mississippi to go dancing in Iowa near the Quad Cities on weekend nights back in the World War I era.. (Granny Gert didn’t know how to swim, so it was fascinating for me to thinkk how she overcame her fear of the mighty river regularly, i.e. when she wanted to go dancing. Dad says that his mom and dad danced avidly for many decades after there meeting near the Quad Cities.)

In the early 1990s, Granny Gert had also shared with me how her own Grandmother and Grandmother Shiffman had arrived in New Orleans, the mouth of the Mississippi River, in the latter part of the 19th Century from near Hamburg, Germany.

Later, through further research, I learned that the oldest mention of the family Stoda in the USA dates to the memory of Friedrich Stoda, who is buried in a small town, called Victory, on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. Friedrich Stoda would have been my father’s great grand parent and had been German-born. Nonetheless, he was also a Civil War veteran. I visited Friedrich’s grave there in Wisconsin two summers ago and took several photos of his plot. (I also ate at a German restaurant on the Mississippi River at the nearby town of Victory.)

I thought long and hard about traveling up to that very ancient cemetery in Wisconsin to deposit Dad’s ashes from my mother’s home in southwestern Missouri in July (where I met with my siblings and other family members for a memorial afternoon), but I decided I did not need to travel that far to find appropriate places to disperse Dad’s ashes.

Along side the fact that the Mississippi River was a place where I best understand my father’s heritage in America, there were several other reasons related to childhood and family memories that led me to place my father’s ashes in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

The first such reason is that the border between the states of Missouri and Illinois is the Mississippi River itself.

Let me explain!

In June of 1960, my Dad, Ronald John Stoda, of Genoa, Illinois married my own mother, Deloris Jean Whisner of Sarcoxie, Missouri—the same year Dad got his first drivers’ license and the year the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series.

NOTES: First, Dad had been diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager, so he had to eventually cross the river to Missouri and get his driver’s license at the age of 26. Second, Dad was a Pittsburgh Pirate fan, so all-in-all Dad must have had a great 1960—with the wedding and all.

My mom was considered a Southerner when she moved north to live with my Dad.

My mother had been born in the part of Missouri, the town of Sarcoxie, which had been pro-Dixie throughout the Civil War. It is reported that in the whole state of Missouri, Sarcoxie was the first town to flight a confederate flag following the Battle of Fort Sumter, which had marked the start of America’s Civil War. The decisive Battle of Carthage had also been fought quite nearby Sarcoxie.

Meanwhile, my Dad was from the Land of Lincoln—Illinois! He was from Dekalb County where the corn grows high.

Thus, the 500 mile-long visits between our families involved the equivalent of a race across the Mason-Dixon line each year at either Thanksgiving, Christmas and/or summer vacation—only, for our family, the Mississippi River served as our Mason-Dixon line.

On these annual pilgrimages to family and ancestors scattered between northern Illinois and southern Missouri, we children were made aware at a young age that America was still fairly divided culturally and socially. Nonetheless, throughout the tumultuous l960s and early 1970s, it was also clear that America was still one single unified country (despite its lack of hegemonic views and histories).

Before my parents divorce in 1980, they had lived together in Iowa (where older brother Paul was born), Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. In this time we had crossed the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers dozens and dozens of times.

During this traveling era, we 4 children had also grown up at least 4 ½ years of our lives near the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This is when father and mother moved out of DeKalb County in Illinois, and planted our residence in St. Charles County, exactly where a great old Missouri River bridge stands less than an hour west of where the Mighty Mo weds itself to the Mighty Mississippi—i.e. just north of St. Louis.

In short, in my childhood memories concerning the crossings or approaches to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, these two rivers became a normal part of my childhood sense of American geography and experience. (NOTE: Both these rivers had been explored by great men such as De Soto, Lafayette, and Lewis & Clark. All American school children have to memorize these facts numerous times in public school.)

These rivers were the backbone of America, and I had grown up playing cards and going to ballgames with my father in this part of our Great Land.

In conclusion, these are the many reasons why symbolically ashes this August 2008.
I symbolically first returned to St. Charles County and then to the Mississippi River to deposit or disperse a few of Dad’s ashes (cremains).


I determined in advance of my pilgrimage to stay at a hotel in Wentzville, Missouri en route to my final destination on the Mississippi River—on the Illinois side. I chose this particular (imaginary) hotel because it was located on Continental Drive.

Dad had worked for over 4 ½ years on that very street at Continental Telephone. The road was named for this now-non-existent firm.

After checking in at the hotel on Continental Drive, I headed to the baseball diamond, where Dad had played softball with some of the church teams in Wentzville.

In Wentzville, Dad had played the first few summers with the local Catholic Church softball team in the Church League. His team was very very good—loaded with talent--, and they handily won the league each season. According to many, this particular Catholic team was also very fun to be around—as well as to watch and play.

Alas, that team consisted of certain Catholics who were not setting good examples for the community of softball followers. Years later, my best friend’s father—who also played in that same league but on another team—shared and laughed about how many of the outfielders on the Catholic team carried full cans of beer out to their positions some innings. Some of them were known for making diving catches even as they tried not to spill a drop of beer from those same cans.

Eventually, the head priest at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, i.e. who was outraged at the bad behavior of some of his church’s players on the Catholic Team, decided that the Catholics would not field any more teams in the Church league for the foreseeable future..

Subsequently, my father played on the Methodist Church Team as my mother attended regularly there.

These memories of the sporting side of my father explain why I chose to deposit a few of the ashes on the very field where Dad, my brother, and I had played at during our family’s tenure in Wentzville.

It was a wet and muddy day. As I walked onto the field, I released some ash onto the on-deck circle of the home team.

Later, I decided this was quite poignant because it is on such an on-deck circle where batters kneel, do practice swings and pray—while waiting for their turn at the plate.

We all have to take our turn at the plate, don’t we? (We also all need to learn pray and try to get a hit—even if life throws us curve balls, eh?)


After leaving the ball diamond, I drove to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, school, and cemetery in the south side of Wentzville on Church Street. My Dad, older brother, and I had attended the fellowship here for the duration of our stay in St. Charles County from December 1970 through August 1975.

My younger sisters attended more regularly with my mom at the United Methodist Church at the other end of town. In short, both my father and mother had let us children know from our childhood onwards that faith was a choice. (Many other peers of mine in America and around the globe have never seen faith as a constant act of making choices, i.e. as to which church to attend or which faith to consider or which softball team to play with.)

It was here at that St. Patrick’s Church where on January 1, 1973 we lit candles for our hero Roberto Clemente, who had passed away the night before.

Roberto Walker Clemente was a Pittsburgh Pirate and a great humanitarian, who died airlifting goods to earthquake victims in Central America on December 31, 1972. Dad and my siblings had gone to see the Pirates play in St. Louis on-and-off many times over the years, too. (By the way, to get to the Cardinal’s Bush Stadium, we would have to drive over the Missouri River and along the Mississippi River.)

Upon arrival, at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery entrance, there was a welcoming monument with a sign saying, “IN CELEBRATION OF LIFE”. There was also an encouraging scripture from John 10:28, which stated,

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand”.

I felt that this was such a very encouraging message for my loved one’s memory, so I poured some more of my father’s ashes at the foot of this monument.


As I headed to the great bridge in St. Charles, the original capital of the state of Missouri nearly two centuries ago, I noted how much the county had been built up, i.e. over the past 3 or more decades since this region had been a boyhood home of mine. There were many new malls, hotels, and school districts on I-70 leading up to the St. Charle’s Bridge on the Mississippi, where once a great replica of Noah’s Ark had once stood.

Today, there are even a pair of casinos on both sides of the Missouri River at the I-70 bridge of St. Charles.

I parked myself at one of the notorious establishments and went hiking on foot through the foliage and trails below—looking for a path to the Missouri River—with the great highway bridges at St. Charles located over my head..

Alas—too late—I remembered why the Missouri River, was not always called the “Mighty Mo”. Rather, it also has the vicious nickname: the “Muddy Mo”. Soon, I couldn’t ignore the mud as my feet sank ever deeper into the quicksand-like clay that is on the banks of much of the great Missouri River.

Luckily, after several heavy recent rains their were small pools and streams of water flowing into the mammoth Missouri.

Coming upon one tiny stream rushing into the river, I took my opportunity to pour in ashes, which flowed into the Missouri River (which had given its name to my mother’s home state).

I looked up at the I-70 Highway structure above me--where cars were rolling east and west--and I thought about how often my family had transversed this same roadway on our routes to family in Illinois or to southern Missouri—or even points further on (like on our family trip to Washington, D.C. in Spring 1973 when the Watergate scandal was raging ).

I then looked across the river to the economic development zone known as Earth City, Missouri, and I recollected how in the mid-1970s great floods had gone over the banks there—just as they had again this year on various parts of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

This had been my third stop that day on behalf of my father’s remains.

Next, it was time for me to do something different so I headed up into near St. Louis’ Lambert Airfield. There I had parked my car. Then I took a metro into downtown St. Louis—where a Cardinal-Dodger game was awaiting me.

Although, this was a new Cardinal stadium (not the Bush Stadium of my youth), I could still recall as I looked onto the Gateway Arch on the Mississippi from the entrance to the great baseball park that Dad—just as we kids had observed in our childhood.

We had come to St. Louis games quite often here in the early 1970s —including a match of soccer between the St. Louis NASL team and Pele’s New York Cosmos.

The baseball game this past August night was very good for the home crowd—with the Cardinals winning handily over their ancient rivals, the Dodgers.

That night, I saw several homeruns, including a grand slam homerun by the Cardinal star, Albert Pujols.

I had to then recall that when I attended my first major league baseball game in 1970 in Chicago with Dad, we had observed numerous homeruns, including a grand slam.

Actually, that ChiSox game was the first time Dad had ever seen a grand slam homerun and he marveled at my luck for years, saying, “I had been to 25 major league baseball games and had never seen a grand slam, but the first time Kevin goes, he sees a grand slam! I can’t believe it!”


I got up early the next morning at my hotel on Continental Drive in Wentzville and made one last journey to St. Louis.

Along the way, I stopped in a Barnes & Nobel Bookstore and bought a book by David Maraniss, entitled CLEMENTE: THE PASSION AND GRACE OF BASEBALL’S LAST HERO.

I then passed through St. Louis, by the Arch, past the baseball stadium I had visited the night before, and finally drove to the Illinois side in order to be in the state where Dad was born in 1934—i.e. the same year when Roberto Clemente was born. I ended up first on land owned by Monsanto and couldn’t get through to the Mississippi there or at the train tracks.

One Illinois trainman warned me at Cahokia, Illinois about trying to cross the tracks there—even after I had explained to him what I was trying to do. The stated sternly, “There are a lot of ‘railroad wackos’ with guns out back that way. You had better try from the Missouri side—possibly near the Arch.”

To make a long story short, the trainman convinced me to go back over the Mississippi River and disperse the last few ashes of Dad there.

Sometime later, on my way back towards the Gateway Arch, I began to cross one of the bridges over the Mississippi River. Suddenly, I saw that I had room to maneuver safely, and a sudden sense of strength and calmness passed over me.

Quickly, I rolled down my right-hand car window as I approached the middle of the river and tossed the tiny brick of marble out towards the water—easily clearing the bridge’s railings at the edge of the far right lane.

Then I smiled and headed back to Wentzville, Missouri for lunch—a hamburger and Peanut Buster Parfait at the new Dairy Queen situated across from the St. Patrick’s Church I had visited the day before.

Why did I end my pilgrimage by eating a Peanut Buster Parfait?

Well, Dad (Ronald John Stoda) loved peanuts. As a matter of fact, at we children’s we had concluded our memorial for Dad a few weeks earlier by serving peanut butter pie, peanuts, and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.

Eating a Peanut Buster Parfait and contemplating the cemetery’s scripture was an appropriate way to end my journey with Dad’s ashes in Wentzville.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)


I wish to encourage others to talk with their parents and siblings about how they wish to deal with their ashes upon a loved one’s death.

I can tell you after my recent perusal of the internet concerning the topic of dispersing ashes (and making any sort of memorial or commemoration ) that many Americans face these same issues year-after-year. It is clear to me—after writing my fantasy story above and doing the research—that every town and state appears to have different rules and regulations for dispersing ashes, planting ashes, disposing ashes, and memorializing or commemorating with ashes.

Whatever you decide to do, please recall that any commemoration is intended to aid in memories and remembering.

If you decide to go on a road trip (pilgrimage) or decide to do something else—even in your own back yard--, make sure it is (1) true to how the loved one would have preferred to be remembered and (2) an act which does indeed lead to further memories and bonding of memories as the event or act of commemoration is recalled in years to come.

Are loved ones may (certainly have not) lived perfect lives but a commemoration is an important bridge to the past and should be a positive experience—even if the commemoration is undertaken only by a single member of the remaining family.


Albert Pujols,






Blogger (^oo^) bad girl (^oo^) said...

Very good......

4:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess things have changed, but I used to be in the Coast Guard, and we occasionally received the ashes of a deceased person at our small boat station. We had to take them out to sea and then write a letter to the family saying where and when it was done. There was no question of refusing, and there was no charge.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

As indicated in the article, on google alone nearly 2000000 hits come up on the subject. I imagine since the US has one federal government, 50 state governments, an 123000 municipalities plus other government agencies, the COAST GUARD and other agencies have to check into rules at each jurisdiction. Perhaps where you were located, the rules were laisse faire compared to San Fran.

7:08 PM  

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