Test drive it first…

Charles 2 Comments

Here’s an intelligent, beautifully written piece from Salon magazine in which the writer describes the consequences of his father’s final request No. 5: “My body is to be placed in a plain pine box. I would like my children to make the box.”

In his last years my father, the writer William Manchester, told me, “When I die, I want you children to build my coffin.” He’d gotten the idea sometime in the ’70s, when a Wesleyan chemistry professor died, and his sons, following a Catalan custom, spent the night before the funeral building his coffin in their basement. My dad explained, “It will give you and your sisters a focus for your grief.”

I nodded and held my tongue. It was pointless to explain what he already knew: My sisters had never done any carpentry, and my own modest skills had diminished since I’d become afflicted by carpal tunnel syndrome.

The writer goes on to recount the story of how the coffin gets made, and concludes:

He would not be buried in it. His instructions stated that following the funeral, he would be cremated. It felt weird to have gone to all that trouble, just to have the coffin burned up a few days later. But its purpose was never practical. My father was a storyteller at heart, and this made a good one. It even had poetic potential: something about all those trees sacrificed to make all his books offering up a few boards for his last story.

Read the whole piece here. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

At the top is an unrelated account of DIY coffin making. Make sure you watch both episodes. It’s a very charming story.

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Jennifer Turner
Jennifer Turner
13 years ago

Oh dear, I really hope my dad doesn’t get any ideas like this. Four kids and none of us has inherited any of his technical ability whatsoever – I suppose that the coffin splitting and my father’s body flopping out and rolling down the hill would provide some sort of comic relief at the funeral, though…

Charles Cowling
13 years ago

Thank you for this dark reflection, Jennifer. I just sort of hope it doesn’t come to this!